Screen Rant reviews District 9
District 9 is probably not what you’re expecting.
The trailers and clips that you may have seen so far don’t really tell you what the movie is about – and that’s a good thing.
20 years ago, an alien ship appeared over (of all places) the city of Johannesburg, South Africa. That’s a pretty matter of fact statement made within a couple of minutes of the start of District 9, which starts off in documentary fashion, complete with behind the scenes types of shots that wouldn’t appear in the final cut of a documentary film.
District 9 (and the documentary) revolves around the story of Wikus Van De Merwe (played extremely well by Sharlto Copley), a supervisor for mega-corporation MNU (Mutli-National United). When the aliens first arrived, an attempt was made to integrate them into the civilian population despite their radically alien, insect-like appearance. However there were issues between them and the humans including theft, murder and mayhem on a sometimes massive scale. Eventually things came to a head (evident by the numerous “no aliens” signs), segregation was imposed and they were moved into a huge refugee-type camp called – District 9.
While the film was produced by none other than Peter Jackson, director Neill Blomkamp was raised in South Africa until he was 18, and this film is a direct reflection of a similar camp/shantytown called “District 6” which was used to segregate blacks until apartheid was finally lifted.
At the start of the film the discovery of the aliens is described along with the fact that over their 20 year stay (there was something wrong with their ship and they’ve been unable to leave) their number has grown from one million to 1.8 million. With the clashes with the local population the decision was made to move them all to a new camp over 100 miles away from Johannesburg, and this is one of the focal points of the film. Van De Merwe is put in charge of coordinating the giant migration (which must began with a legal eviction of the “prawns” as they’re derisively called) from their current homes.
MNU is tasked with this project – but another very significant part of the company is weapons manufacture. They want to figure out how to make the alien weapons work, but they are designed to be triggered only by alien DNA. Solving this problem would mean billions of dollars in profit for the company.
The story revolves almost exclusively around Van De Merwe, and it is hinted at very early on in the film that something happens which causes him to be eventually branded a traitor. We’re with him through the entire film and to say he goes through some tribulations and changes is putting it mildly. Watching him evolve as a character as the movie progresses is one of the best things about the film.
This film is a fitting movie for winding down the summer movie season – while it has its share of action and explosions, it also tells a compelling story and wraps it in social commentary (and don’t worry, it’s not remotely “preachy”). It has drama, action, violence, touching moments and even some comedy – but all these aspects seam together smoothly for the most part. Towards the end of the film there is something that will immediately call to mind the robots from Transformers, and considering what’s come before that does seem a little out of place and inserted just for the sake of a big action set-piece.
The documentary approach that opens the film starts out light and a bit funny, and it may throw you off a bit. As the film goes on eventually the obvious documentary approach falls by the wayside and we’re back in standard observer of what’s happening mode, with the sporadic news clip and interview inserted as a kind of narrative.
This movie is rife with tons of little details that all combine to add to the tapestry of the film – Van De Merwe’s clumsy geekyness at the start of the film, his wife reminiscing about him, the misinformation in news reports (that may take you back to Robocop just a little bit), the aliens’ obsession with cat food (of all things!), and it goes on and on.
District 9 is rated R and for good reason: There is a ton of gore and violence, and enough F-bombs that even if you tried you’d lose count. Now neither of those are a bad thing in the film – they both fit into the context perfectly (there’s almost a certain glee that comes with the amount and level of blood spatters that hit the camera lense throughout the film). I’m just letting you know that this is one where you might want to fork out the bucks for a babysitter.
I would dare say that the movie will take you in a direction you didn’t expect and that after you watch it, it may take a while for what you just saw to sink in. Is it perfect? No – there are a few things that I thought were a bit of a plot hole or stretched out time-wise that didn’t make perfect sense, and in the third act it seems to get a bit over-“actiony” just for the sake of it. But if you’re looking for a smart Sci-Fi movie to cleanse your palate of the fluffy Sci-Fi films that have been the hallmark of 2009, District 9 may be just the ticket.
Discuss your non-spoiler thoughts on the film below, or head to our District 9 spoilers page to talk about the film without worrying about ruining for people who haven’t seen it yet.