Although Elysium has been less than uniformly lauded, District 9 proved to much more consistently appreciated. In fact, it is seldom remarked that District 9 is stylistically a bit of a jumble, starting off as a mockumentary before dropping and then picking back up the format in an inconsistent manner. Fortunately, the script, subtext, acting and action are so superb that such nagging flaws don’t affect either our enjoyment or appreciation of one of the best sci-fi debuts for many a Moon.
As the annoying and slightly ridiculous bureaucrat who in trying to clear the eponymous slum winds up becoming infected, Sharlto Copley gives one of the great sci-fi performances of the decade. Desperate to somehow find a way of putting things right as he is hunted by the authorities and watches on in horror as his body transforms in front of him, Wikus goes from being a repellant racist to an incredibly sympathetic victim of circumstance. His distress at being used to fire alien weapons, his horror at the treatment of aliens but his continued conviction that it can all still somehow be “undone” is incredibly well handled and eschews the more obvious Dances With Prawns arc that Blomkamp could so easily have slipped into. Like Minority Report, District 9 takes a compelling issue, this time our treatment of immigrants and our attitude towards those of other races and shackles it to compelling (and at times pretty visceral) action and hard sci-fi. It was always going to be unrealistic to expect Elysium to match up to this.