This is a film which deserves praise in several regards and is the kind of breath of fresh air that demands our attention. With that being said the originality within the tale both as sci-fi epic and as social commentary does not, in and of itself, make this film bulletproof.
The lead, Sharlto Copley, is tremendous in probably the tour-de-force turn of the year. The special effects are immaculate and couldn’t be faulted for a second. In terms of furthering the genre it did so in having the hero become the enemy of the people and in how it accomplished that feat.
Its social commentary and partially documentary style were also effective in telling its apartheid tale. Sci-fi at its best is more about humanity than beings from another planet.
However, the partial documentary style is one of the small issues with the film, and with a piece so strong small things are magnified. The first act is very heavy with the documentary angle giving much needed backstory and even a slight MacGuffin, but it vanishes and takes a very narrative approach even losing timecode stamps and caring less about where is this footage coming from in the context of the story. It took a while for the narrative switch to be noticeable but the doc approach could’ve been brought back once or twice in Act II just to tighten things up as it did drag a little.
Slow narrative pace is even harder to stomach when the jerky-handheld cinematography is a constant. The handheld is the one documentarian aspect that remains and may be a bit much for those prone to motion sickness.
The change in character and how his friends become his enemies and he must align himself with the aliens make it very much worth watching. The protagonist’s metamorphosis is realistically and compellingly rendered.
It is a unique moralistic sci-fi tale with great performances, biting and true commentary about humanity, politics and multinational corporations. It is definitely a must-see but by no means a masterpiece.