Despite some overtly simplistic narrative devices and occasionally muddled ideologies, District 9 slowly evolves from its documentary beginnings into an engaging action film of great weight. The film flourishes when cornered by implausibility and fails when rooted in commentary, but still manages to construct a nightmarish fantasy world out the preconception of reality, becoming a rapturous experience in the final dynamic moments.
Everything in District 9 seems predetermined, a part of some larger prophecy that will undoubtably be explored in the sequels to come. For the first hour, the film plays coy with the viewer, displaying hero Wikus (Sharlto Copley) as a bumbling corporate imbecile, passive to a fault and aggressive only when flanked by armed contractor support. The alien “Prawns” are something of a marvel, fluttering, jumping, and popping with an unmatched intensity, and when the “evil” humans begin to get knocked off, that old Spielbergian impulse begins to amp up and justify some vicious violence. For better or worse, District 9 turns the tables on compassion and sympathy for human life.
Director Neill Blomkamp and his special effects team create a brilliant alternate universe overwhelmed by dirt, flies, fluid, blood, and texture – the centerpiece being a Cronenberg-style infection slowly morphing a character from one species to another. Some of the visual standouts are Blomkamp’s wide shots of Johannesburg, a city racked by decades of racial divide, purposefully shrouded in shadow by the massive mother ship, and the Alien weaponry overpowering the senses with it’s deadly accuracy and effectiveness.
But District 9 is not the revolutionary Sci-Fi film its supporters believe it to be, because unlike 2001, or Blade Runner, or Children of Men, it lacks an ambitious and thought-provoking underbelly of social critique. In District 9, what you see is exactly what you get, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a completely thrilling time at the movies.