Leave it to me to devote an entire post to a grandiose announcement of things to come, and then post nothing but filler for a week. Ah, well, what’re you gonna do?
On Friday, I went to see Chappie, the third movie from Neill Blomkamp, and number 10 on my “Most Anticipated of 2015” list. Keep my high expectations in mind as I proceed to demolish this movie.
Directed by: Neill Blomkamp
Produced by: Simon Kinberg
Written by: Neill Blomkamp, Terri Tatchell
Based on: Tetra Vaal by Neill Blomkamp (Short film)
Genre: Science fiction
Starring: Sharlto Copley, Dev Patel, Ninja, Yolandi Visser, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Sigourney Weaver, Hugh Jackman
Music by: Hans Zimmer
Plot: Johannesburg, South Africa of the near future. Crime is out of control and the police are in over their heads.
Thankfully, weapons manufacturers come to the rescue, as they are known to do, as a corporation named Tetravaal invents the world’s first-ever robotic police force, which absolutely demolishes most of the city’s crime (And yet, criminals still do pretty much whatever they want and Tetravaal workers can be kidnapped right outside the factory. Huh). However, the designer of the robots (Dev Patel) wants to experiment with new Artificial Intelligence software that would allow the robots to feel emotions and have opinions. Deciding to take matters into his own hands, he installs the software into a damaged robot (Voiced by Sharlto Copley). Unfortunately, this robot (Dubbed “Chappie”) falls into the hands of some local scumbags (Ninja, Yolandi Visser and Jose Pablo Cantillo) and the childlike Johnny 5/Bugs Bunny hybrid’s future is out into serious jeopardy.
Neill Blomkamp is a name that has been getting more and more recognition within the geek community as the director of the contemporary sci-fi classic that is District 9 and Elysium, one of the most thoroughly okay movies that I’ve ever seen. as well as the director of the upcoming fifth installment in the Alien franchise. Blomkamp’s gritty direction is surprisingly well-suited for the high concept science fiction that he specializes in, and there are moments throughout Chappie where his skill shines through. The CGI and special effects are terrific, especially the effects for Chappie and the other robots, who look breathtakingly lifelike, which I suppose is to be expected from the guy who did the aliens in District 9.
When there are action scenes, Blomkamp directs them very well, which, in hindsight, kinda strikes me as a frustrating tease, but c’est la vie.
There are a couple performances that stand out among the rest (More on that later). Dev Patel is very solid as Chappie’s creator, making me wonder once again why in the hell he doesn’t get more work (He even managed to be mostly functional in The Last Airbender, a feat that deserves much praise on its own), but the real standout is Sharlto Copley as the voice and motion capture for the title character. Among all the forgettable or downright detestable characters in this mess of a movie, the one enjoyable, energetic constant is Chappie, who I know would be a joy to watch under the right circumstances.
As much as I did kind of hate this film, I can’t really fault it for existing, if that makes any sense at all. I mentioned in my “Most Anticipated” list that I thought that Chappie kinda looks like a Steven Spielberg movie, which, I admit, had me pretty excited. I really liked the idea of seeing this childlike robot grow up in a rough part of Jo-burg, learning about people and human nature in general. Not only did I not get that, I’m not particularly sure how to describe what I got any other way except “A robot hanging out with a bunch of unlikable scumbags for two hours. Shenanigans ensue.”
If the movie had stuck to the education of Chappie, which had proven early on in the film to be a strong suit, it would have been a whole hell of a lot more entertaining than the actual end result, which didn’t amount to much more than Chappie learning about the joys of petty crime and macho posturing under the tutelage of a hip-hop/rave duo. Ugh.
Speaking of said hip-hop/rave duo, they’re called Die Antwoord (“The Answer” in Afrikaans) and they’re composed of Ninja and Yolandi (Who play the characters of Ninja and Yolandi. Cryptic, I know) and, as you may expect from two people who haven’t acted prior to this movie, they aren’t very good, although they don’t embarrass themselves and they do try, I’ll give them that.
Die Antwoord’s music plays quite frequently throughout the film and is,along with Hans Zimmer’s score, another strong point of the film (Keep in mind, this is coming from somebody who has spent a large portion of his life claiming that rave music is literally worse than Hitler), though the frequency that their music is played can feel like shameless self-promotion a lot of the time (Especially when the characters actually wear Die Antwoord merchandise). Eh, at least it’s not as blatantly obvious as the product placement for PlayStation 4 that occurs at one point. Not to cast the first stone, but you don’t see Nintendo pulling that shit.
Aside from Patel and Copley, none of the actors are particularly good, but a lot of the blame for that should probably be laid at the feet of the writing. Besides Chappie, these characters are garbage. Dev Patel’s character isn’t interesting, Ninja and Yolandi (The characters, obviously, not the actual people) are unlikable scumbags (Though they can apparently do a complete personality 180 at the drop of a hat), America (Ninja and Yolandi’s companion, played ably by Jose Pablo Cantillo) is a completely useless character, Sigourney Weaver is wasted on a generic, amoral corporate character, and Hugh Jackman- Alright, let me just go on a little bit about Hugh Jackman’s character.
I’m a huge Hugh Jackman fan and, as far as performances go, this one isn’t the worst, but this character is absolute dogshit. There’s nothing interesting about him at all and the only flimsy reason for his existence is to move the plot along whilst fitting every single generic villain trope possible. He has no redeeming qualities whatsoever, no personality other than “angry” and “Australian”, and you wonder why he’s in law enforcement if he’s willing to kill hundreds of innocents just so his fucking ED-209 clone gets authorized by Sigourney Weaver. There’s nothing substantial or entertaining about him, and it’s a travesty that an Oscar-nominated actor could be wasted on such an empty character.
Subtlety has never really been Neill Blomkamp’s strong point. If District 9 was about as subtle an apartheid allegory as a sledgehammer to the face, Elysium was about as subtle a commentary on inequality as a blow from that hammer that King Dedede uses in Super Smash Bros.
But as blunt as those two movies were about their respective agendas, at least Blomkamp found a somewhat inventive way to get his message across. Chappie tries to delve not so much into political issues, but into philosophical and moral ones, and in the process, I think it becomes a little too subtle, to the point where it loses sight of what it wanted to say in the first place. At one point, the film does try to say something about the duplicity and nastiness of human nature, and, it’s alright, whatever, but it seems out of place. Put it this way: I should never have to say that The Fifth Element did it better. The Fifth Element did a similar message in a much more better and entertaining way.
I feel like it could’ve worked a lot better if, again, they had just made a movie about Chappie learning to be human, and not so much, y’know, what the movie turned out to be.
Overall: Chappie could’ve been great, and, when it’s potential shines through it’s pretty solid, but those moments are few and far between, and in the meantime, what we’re left with is mostly crap.