Gran Turismo is Neill Blomkamp's Worst Movie For One Disappointing Reason

The director was once one of Hollywood’s brightest up-and-coming voices, but not anymore.

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Archie Madekwe as Jann Mardenborough in 'Gran Turismo'
Gordon Timpen/Sony Pictures

Fourteen years ago, Neill Blomkamp burst onto the Hollywood scene with his feature directorial debut, District 9. A modest, partly-found footage sci-fi film, District 9 received rave reviews for Blomkamp’s inspired direction and its pointed political themes. It went on to receive numerous Oscar nominations in 2010, including one for Best Picture, which seemed to cement Blomkamp’s place as one of the most lauded and promising filmmaking voices of his generation.

In the years since District 9’s release, however, Blomkamp has failed to recapture the success he achieved with his feature debut. His second film, 2013’s Elysium, was a flawed but compelling sci-fi blockbuster that received numerous, unfavorable comparisons to District 9. Two years later, his third feature, Chappie, performed moderately well at the box office but earned justifiably bad reviews across the board. Afterward, Blomkamp took a six-year break from feature filmmaking.

He returned in 2021 with the little-seen, critically derided low-budget horror flick, Demonic. That film, for all of its flaws, saw Blomkamp dive back into the same scrappy style of filmmaking that had once defined him. Now, he’s made his return to the big-budget Hollywood world with Gran Turismo, which marks a new low point for Blomkamp — and not because it’s particularly worse than Chappie or Demonic.

Gran Turismo marks a surprising new creative low for director Neill Blomkamp.

Gordon Timpen/Sony Pictures

The most shocking thing about Gran Turismo is its overwhelming blandness. The film doesn’t look or feel like it was made by any one person in particular, let alone a once-identifiable director like Blomkamp. Aside from a few of its video game-inspired motifs, which Blomkamp has previously experimented with, the film bears none of the visual hallmarks of his past work.

Even worse, Gran Turismo thematically sticks out like a sore thumb in Blomkamp’s filmography. Up to this point, all of his most ambitious and noteworthy projects have revolved around real-world ideas about wealth, segregation, bigotry, and corporate greed. He is, after all, the filmmaker who made a Matt Damon-led blockbuster about a space station where the world’s wealthiest people have hoarded the most technologically advanced medical and environmental resources for themselves.

You wouldn’t be able to guess any of that watching Gran Turismo. The film not only goes out of its way to paint both Sony and Nissan in as positive a light as possible, but it also exists solely to sell more copies of its eponymous video game franchise and peddle a dime-a-dozen message about following your dreams. Blomkamp’s personal connection to the film’s story, if he even has one, is imperceptible — a fact that only further highlights Gran Turismo’s lackluster style.

Gran Turismo is the blandest movie of Neill Blomkamp’s career.

Gordon Timpen/Sony Pictures

To be clear: None of this is meant to criticize Blomkamp himself or deny his merits as an artist. In fact, it’s meant to do the opposite.

At this point, despite the fact that Elysium isn’t nearly as bad as some critics would have you believe, Blomkamp seems to have lost much of the goodwill he garnered with District 9. While that’s unfortunate, he also isn’t the first director who has struggled to replicate the success of a previous film, nor is he the first to find himself in a position where making new, ambitious movies is more difficult than it should be.

Having an original, identifiable voice in the entertainment industry isn’t easy, and it never has been. What Gran Turismo proves is that the worst thing Blomkamp can do isn’t continue to make idea-driven, divisive films, but make movies that feel like they could have been directed by anybody. If there’s one thing a new movie from the filmmaker behind District 9, Elysium, and Chappie should never be, it’s so indistinct as to be forgettable.

Gran Turismo is now playing in theaters nationwide.

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