Chappie – 2 out of 5
Hey loyal readers (all 3 of you…and the fourth person who was trying to find porn but accidentally clicked the wrong link)! I haven’t posted a review in a couple weeks because I was off saving the world from a meteorite that was filled with black goo aliens ready to crash on Earth and unleash super cyborg-sharks that need to eat people to survive. You’re welcome…okay, honestly, I’ve been working a lot of overtime at my day job of being a Real Life Hank Hill (shockingly, this blog isn’t paying the bills…yet) and I’ve been catching up on some shows (like the Yahoo! season of Community, the first season of True Detective in order to be ready for season two and finally checking out the first season of Defiance). Anywho, with some of my stories caught up on and mandatory overtime now complete, I’m back and ready to drop my movie experiences on you…I just wish I started back up with a better movie.
|Cold and emotionless...no, I'm not describing the robot but how I felt watching this.|
So it turns out crime is a wee bit of a problem in Johannesburg and the government no longer wants to risk the lives of their human officers. A brilliant young engineer working for a company called Tetravaal named Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) creates a state-of-the-air robot police force (some sort of robocops, if you will) in order to solve the issue. Things seem great as Tetravaal is doing phenomenal and the CEO Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver) is very happy…a feeling that isn’t mirrored by a former soldier and current engineer Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman). Due to the success of Wilson’s robots, his program called MOOSE (a heavy remote controlled tank-like robot that looks suspiciously like ED-209) is pushed to the backburner and he becomes dead-set on trying to derail Wilson’s career. Meanwhile on his personal time, Wilson develops a successful AI program and installs it in a robot that is marked for recycling. Now, you can’t have a film that has a developer successfully create AI and see him and the robot live happily ever after. Nope, you need conflict and that comes in the form of some cartoonish gangsters; Ninja and Yo-Landi (played by the rap duo Die Antwoord) and their third wheel Amerika (Jose Pablo Cantillo). The trio gets in bad with a crime lord and need to pay him major bucks or they get killed. When their plans go astray, they find themselves with this new sentient robot named Chappie and decide to teach his child-like mind and have him help them get out of their mess…and time is definitely a factor as Chappie’s damaged body only has so long to "live" and the gangsters only have so much time before the crime boss comes a-knockin’ with some bullets.
|You're already "borrowing" from Short Circuit, Blomkamp, might as well "borrow"|
I was very excited for Chappie when I first saw the trailer because I really enjoy Neill Blomkamp’s films. Yes, the guy isn’t very subtle with his agendas he’s pushing in the stories but District 9 blew me away and, even with its problems, I enjoyed Elysium and I still wanna see a prequel to that film that centers entirely on Sharlto Copley’s character. Even with the reality that the film looked like a gritty reboot of Short Circuit, I was sold on the film because it had Copley as a robot, the guy from Slumdog Millionaire (at the time, my brain was mysteriously blocking out my memories of The Last Airbender), Hugh Jackman with an interesting haircut, Sigourney Weaver and, more importantly, no Fisher Stevens doing an offensive stereotype. So, needless to say, I was sold on the film. The reality of viewing it, however, proved to be greatly disappointing.
First off, I have to say the film has some tremendous special effects that leave Chappie and the other robots looking very realistic. Additionally, the film has a very strong cast in the form of Jackman, Weaver and Copley. However, that’s pretty much where my shining lights for this film ends because the rest of it is a mess of bad storytelling, characters I couldn’t take seriously, bad writing, needless gore, horrible acting, and a complete waste of potential.
|And don't get me started on the costume choices.|
One of the biggest issues of this film is a complete lack of a fluidly moving story and a total absence of urgency. Two big set pieces of the plot revolve around having a time limit—Ninja, Yo-Landi and Amerika only have a week to get the crime lord his absorbent amount of cash and Chappie only has so long to live before his battery goes and he, for all intents and purposes, dies. Never does the film really give a sense that these elements are of any urgency and, instead of trying to find out a way to save Chappie, the emphasis is kinda/sorta getting ready for a heist and then having throwaway scenes that involve Ninja wearing no shirt and tiny shorts that look like a pair of boxers he lifted from a Goodwill and trying to show Chappie how to be cool—and these scenes left me wondering that if what I was watching was really the definition of being "cool," then I never want to be cool. At no point during the story did I ever feel that either the robot or the colorful gangsters I was unable to take seriously were in any real danger or threat and it made for a film that was already barely grabbing and keeping my attention feel like it was actively pushing me away.
|You're a disgrace to movie robots everywhere, Chappie!|
And that brings me to my next point: I couldn’t take any characters seriously. Whether it’s because the characters are barely used (like Sigourney Weaver) or they are too silly to take seriously (Die Antwoord) or they are just so poorly written (Chappie and Dean Wilson) that I found myself complete devoid of any possible emotional attachment to these characters and found most of them too ridiculous to actually view and enjoy.
|Seriously, Yo-Lindi takes the time to color coordinate? I honestly can't tell if this|
is a comedy or something I'm suppose to take seriously.
First off, it was a crime that Weaver was put in the film and is only around to fill the void of Tetravaal needing a CEO. The woman is far too talented to be slapped in a role that could have easily gone to a young and hungry actress ready for her next big break. Fuck, her final scene shows her character fleeing her office with her purse and coat in hand and it had me wondering if the production just didn’t accidentally film her fleeing the set during an action sequence that was taking place.
|"Hey, let's get Weaver to do this movie and then do absolutely nothing with her talent!"|
Then, as if to parallel the completely superfluous nature of Weaver’s character, the man who is suppose to (in theory) be very important to the plot; Dean Wilson, isn’t in the film most of the time. He’s established as the creator of the robots and the AI program but is then quickly pushed to the background and only brought back for a few more establishing sequences (like showing Jackman’s move from being an asshole to an asshole that wants to murder people—his character doesn’t go through much growth…not that any character really does) before being pushed aside (again) and then, during the final moments of the story, he’s suddenly important again and is treated like he was an irreplaceable part of Chappie’s existence the entire time. And why is he pushed in and out of the story? For no other reason than to include more scenes of Chappie with a shirtless Ninja and Yo-Landi (in whatever the fuck outfight she threw together after a thrift store threw up on her) proving the reality that the transition from music to acting isn’t for every musician.
|"I'm important to the story...at times."|
One thing that felt very out of place with the film was some pointless gore attached at the end of the film. I’m not one to shy away from violence and blood in films but it has to serve a purpose. The violence and spectacle in District 9 and Elysium was prevalent throughout the film and was an essential part to the story. This isn’t seen in Chappie. While the robots are cops meant to stop crime, a majority of the story focuses on Chappie coming to terms with what he is and his learning. Until the final battle, the few scenes of violence involve no blood and are just throwing things at people and some punches tossed out. Hell, there’s only a single death that occurs at the beginning and the rest of the film is made to look like the emphasis is on Chappie’s journey and loss of innocence rather than seeing him become an instrument of destruction in a fight sequence that never truly feels like it belongs. The moment this sequence starts, I started to question if Blompkamp included this because he felt it was expected from his work or he just needed to spice up a story that was on the verge of spiraling into the ground due to boredom.
|Having this shot in the action sequence isn't helping the movie at all.|
There’s actually a lot of potential Chappie holds. The film fiddles around with the concept of what makes a person alive and what constitutes consciousness. It’s old Sci-Fi hat when it comes to these concepts but it’s also a very difficult theme to get right because it is very deep philosophically. Chappie fails miserably at this. Passing comments about what it means to be alive is what passes for deep meaningful discussions and very little attention is made to craft Chappie into a wondrous being that is enamored with his new gift of consciousness. What is delivered feels half-assed as we see Yo-Landi explaining to Chappie what souls are and seeing Chappie make big world connections thanks to dogs. That is what Neill Blomkamp and co-writer Terri Tatchell are trying to sell as deep and meaningful. The whole film was sold on the idea that Chappie is alive and is conscious but what we get feels thrown together by people who read a Wikipedia article on philosophy and said, "I get the gist of it."
|There's a dog and a robot in this film. I should be loving every living second of this!|
I probably could have walked away with a mild enjoyment of this film because of the existence of Copley as a robot, the special effects, and seeing Hugh Jackman rock some dad shorts…
|Those shorts are the real stars of this stinker.|
…however, even seeing Jackman in shorts that were clearly cutting off any potential for his character to carry on his lineage through children (hell, his character might have been nicer if he went a size bigger because some pinching issues might have been only assisting his irate attitude) it was not enough to get any enjoyment out of the film because of Die Antwoord. I hate to single them out as the major problem but their bad acting was so hard to watch and their characters were way too cartoonish to take seriously as gangsters. I get it; they’re eccentric and colorful but never were they sympathetic or relatable.
|How badass are your gangsters when they take the time to paint a punching bag pink and|
The story really, REALLY wants you to feel what Chappie is feeling and understand that he sees these two as his parents and holds an undying love for Yo-Landi due to her uncompromising tenderness she shows him and that he holds a bit of fear and tension towards Ninja because of his hostility he shows towards the robot. The problem is that their acting was so bad and the production made it feel they were more worried about making them look like they were on the constant verge of jumping into one of their ridiculous songs at any moment that at no point did I say, "Yeah, I am fully investing in these characters and I can take them seriously." Shit, the moment I saw Yo-Landi in a shirt that had a robot with a heart on it and it read "Chappie" over it I completely checked out of the film. It was at that very point I realized the film had no idea if it was a self-aware comedy or an action film that toyed with including some deep themes of what constitutes consciousness but didn’t really grasp the idea hard enough to do it justice or was just a messy drama that was stealing entire elements from a mediocre 80s comedy starring Steve Guttenberg.
|Seriously, Chappie only has a few days to live and you wasted some of that time going|
to a print screening store to make that shirt?
I really wanted to like Chappie. The concept of an infantile robot growing and learning was a prime breeding ground for some deep and thought-provoking science fiction. I was able to overlook the very obvious parallels to Short Circuit early on and was able to overlook that this film had the potential to contain Blomkamp’s usual complete lack of subtlety thanks to great special effects and cast members that I really enjoy but the final product was unimaginative, lazy, and filled with one-dimensional characters that either suffer from little to absolutely no growth or are too poorly portrayed by their performer to take seriously. I really wanted to enjoy this one but, ultimately, was incredibly disappointed with it.