An uneasy mix. I'm not sure if the muddle of styles ENTIRELY works - the faux-documentary talking heads at the beginning do help to "set the scene" but it all goes on a little too long, and then it kind of just... drops... that in favour of increasingly more dramatic "faux-docu" scenes and then into scenes that a documentary would not have been near at all. And that second half is the stronger half by far, even though it gets into yet another uneasy mix, that of a character-driven film and a pure action flick, and every so often can't seem to decide between them. But anyway, for what it's worth:
THINGS I LIKED:
There are a couple of scenes that are powerful stuff. Like the scene when the alien stands appalled in the bio-lab, staring at what was once a sentient being of his own kind and is now no more than a pile of jumbled flesh. Yes, knowing about something like that may be one thing. COming face to face with it is something quite different, and this scene works on that level.
I like the fact that dammit, aliens landed somewhere OTHER than the White House lawn. It's about time.
They did a good job with the aliens. THey're just... ALIEN enough. And just human enough that every necessary emotion is tugged at. Nice job.
THINGS THAT BUGGED ME:
The alien language is hardly a simple one. And while I can kind of buy a petty bureaucrat like Wikus van der Merwe being able to understand at least a smidge of it, enough to communicate, I don't buy the mercenaries doing so - their job is to shoot the bastards, not talk to them. Thus one mercenary to another, "That prawn back there knows what's going on, make him talk" is just... utterly unlikely. They might well make him talk. Without a Universal Translator (and there was no hint of THAT) he might be giving them every damned detail of his plans but they haven't a prayer of understanding any of it.
Where the hell did the Transformer Robot come from at the end? (yeah, he was cool - echoes of Aliens and "get away from her you BITCH" come to mind - but he was just a tad too deus an ex machina.
That ship that just HANGS there for twenty years. Just HANGS there. Dead. WHy did it die there. just like that? If it ran out of fuel what the hell is keeping it up there all those years? And if it didn't run out of fuel why didn't the aliens DO something about getting back up there? (they COULD - the movie proved that much with the single alien gaining the mothership with the makeshift shuttlecraft. And then that single alien manages to get the whole thing started - and controlled - by himself. Just like that. Unh. Yes. Okay. If you say so. (But I don't quite buy it...)
Wikus was a damnably hard character to like, and he was supposed to carry the whole movie. To begin with he was a Milquetoast yessirnosirthreebagsfullsir bureaucrat kowtowing to his corporate master (who also happens to be his father in law. Can you say nepotism? Can you say utterly useless but hey he's family...?), then he is a bumbling Milquetoast character who basically engineers his own downfall, then he becomes a fugitive but a fairly stupid one, then he gets caught and for a moment there you start feeling sympathy for someone who's not really being HELPED but is being STUDIED and with people talking about his vital body parts and teh harvesting thereof over his body as though he is already dead, and that deepens with his reaction to having to shoot the live alien they bring in for him to blast ("I'll shot a pig for you! I will - but I can't shoot him - he's done nothing...") then he reverts to being an idiot and a selfish bastard and if he had acted differently the entire last third of blast-and-bomb movie segment would probably not have been needed at all. But instead he finds the Transformer Waldo suit and off he goes on a rampage so that the alien and the alien baby can escape in the mother ship (what is this "fliud" anyway? SOmething like Red Matter? if it takes alien DNA to run things might this "fluid" not be present in the aliens themselves, and if so why didn't they just volunteer a couple of thousand of them so that the rest of the 1.5 million of them can, you know, go home and escape this hellhole called Earth where they're being kept in concentration camps...? Catfood really that good?)
THINGS THAT BUGGED OTHER PEOPLE WHICH I WAS ON THE LOOKOUT FOR BECAUSE I READ OTHER PEOPLE'S BLOGS:
Nnedi Okorafor wrote about the movie on her blog, and she and her two sisters damn near had a collective coronary about the whole thing when they went to see it. Their reasons were at least threefold - the fact that the movie's villains were referred to as "the Nigerians" (which drove them nuts because, well, they ARE Nigerians and they kind of resented the implied tarring of the entire nation with that particular broad brush of thuggery and criminality), the fact that there were references to "muti", or black magic, shown as practiced by a black woman with dreadlocks (which drove them nuts because, well, at least one if not all of them ARE black women who wear dreadlocks and they felt stereotyped) and the fact that there were so few women in the movie (as exemplifed by the fact that all the aliens seemed male by default except for the solitary one which appeared to be wearing a completely unnecessary bra - which, to be fair, doesn't seem to signify that much given what the apparent sartorial choices of the rest of the aliens seem to be).
I left South Africa many years ago, and I don't begin to know what the situation on the ground is any more - and I can certainly understand, viscerally, the response of having one's entire people being called exploitative, mindlessly evil, laughing while they slaughter (as the "Nigerian" gang is portrayed in the movie). I think that calling the main villain Obasanjo was a REALLY bad idea - I can sort of understand what they were TRYING to do but that name carries far too much baggage - if you're going to go for that ethnicity, at least do your homework and come up with a different name. I am sure there must be MANY. But I don't think that the movie was an evil-minded plot to paint Nigerians as bad bad bad people. They needed a certain subset of villains, and they picked one - but to be brutally honest, the entire human race doesn't come out smelling like roses in this film, and the Nigerians are the megavillains in name only. The (very Caucasian) MSN corporation is just as villainous, even MORE villainous, not any less so for their maleficence being rather more hidden behind a nice front of bureaucrats like the idiot Wikus who buys into the culture without knowing the faintest thing about what the company represents or what they are REALLY doing behind the scenes. The HUMAN RACE are the villains in this movie. ALL of us. Starting with the brainwashed and frightened talking heads in the faux-doco in the beginning, many of them South African blacks themselves, until recently the lowest rung on the totem pole and now all too eager to kick at those who appear to be crouched even lower down beneath their own feet. The human race comes out as an appalling mess. One of the last scenes in the movie features a talking head wondering if the alien who escaped will be back with reinforcements to "declare war on us" - declare war, my foot, we've already declared it. All we can expect now is to face the consequences of our actions (all the while bleating some sort of self-justification as we perish, as humans do. GOD, but we are a self righteous selfish species. And GOD, does this movie show us that. It holds up a mirror and it - despite the Cthulhu-tentacled faces of the aliens, WE are the ugly ones.
I crossed paths with muti-killings when I was living in Africa, back when I was a child. They made newspaper headlines. They exist. They existed then, and I have no doubt they exist today. I don't know what a "witchdoctor" (sorry about the terminology if that seems offensive but that's what they are under the circumstances... they are by their own definition supernatural and have access to witchy stuff beyond the ken of us ordinary folk...) looks like - they don't tattoo it on their foreheads - and I certainly would not see a woman with dreadlocks on the street and assume she is one. They could have had one of the bald-pated muscled thugs take on the witchdoctor's role here, and it wouldn't have, in my head, made a difference. It's the level of belief - "eat their parts and you will become them" - that is the issue here, and that was a part of the primitive beliefs of many a culture, not just black, not even just Nigerian, and the gender and the length of hair of the practitioner have nothing to do with any of it. The power is in the words, in the relationship between the practitioner or priest of a certain faith and that faith's believer. I think it would have rather lessened the sense of Wikus's danger when the head honcho of the gang lightly tells his henchman, "I want that arm, cut it off, I'll eat it and become just like him" if you had not seen, earlier, a scene where that exact situation was going on - where alien body parts were being offered up as dinner in the hope that consuming them might confer the aliens' powers. It does not follow in the least that if all (or even some) witchdoctors are women with dreadlocks then all women with dreadlocks are in fact witchdoctors. Yes, I know it's hard to watch someone who looks rather like what one sees in the mirror being potrtayed on screen as something... that one knows is NOT in that mirror. But it's still a mirror. No more than that. They set the movie in Africa and if they HAD NOT used any African background that would have been infintely more glaring.
I have to wonder who would have played the role of the God-spoken if the aliens DID choose to land in the American deep south, for instance. I rather fear for the immortal souls of some fundamentalist types down south if THEY had been faced with dealing with these creatures - they would have damned themselves and their descendants unto the third generation with what they might have done. It might not be called muti, or involve the eating of body parts, or be something practiced by dark-skinned women with dreadlocked hair - but honestly, some froth-mouthed preacher in a deeply fundamentalist church scares me far more, on a far deeper level...
And, finally, the women.
Bad feminist, no biscuit. You know, sometimes this just DOESN'T BUG ME. Not every story has to have a token warrior female. I hated it when they turned Arwen into one in Lord of the Rings, where no such necessity (in my mind) existed; I do not miss the feminine presence here. They didn't go into the details of the aliens' reproduction - but they hatch from EGGS, and at least one young'un (male) is seen being brought up by a supposedly MALE parent. The aliens might be, at the very least, hemaphrodites, like snails, and they might be capable of fertilising themselves and then, as we were shown, the eggs are incubated exteriorly so there are no masculine/feminine adaptations for the carrying of and caring for the spawn, as it were. They appear to be left to hatch on their own. It might be interesting to pursue this particular science ficitonal avenue further - but it had not been done in the context of the movie, and thus I didn't find the lack of alien "females" either puzzling or annoying. And frankly, I'm just as glad there weren't any females in the major human roles. I'd have hated to see a woman take part in some of those decisions (Wikus's attitude to the destruction by fire of the incubating alien eggs - their CHILDREN - is sickening, actually...)
Final verdict: Fair, but flawed, on a number of levels. Not one I'd go see again, but I'm glad I saw it.