Short Attention Span Review™
Everything about Chappie looks and feels like a signature Neill Blomkamp film . . . one that borrows heavily from RoboCop, Short Circuit, and even Pinocchio. While taking brutal hits from a chorus of critics and still having many flaws (casting Die Antwoord members Ninja and Yolandi to essentially play themselves), it works as a sometimes darkly humorous science fiction action flick.
What’s this Amy?! A new He Said, She Said for the first time in 15 years? Wow. Well, we don’t get out to movies as much as we used to for various reasons, mainly rude people, exorbitant ticket prices, and Blu-rays hitting retail only scant months after theatrical release.
That being said, I’m a fan of Neill Blomkamp, and have been since District 9 graced unsuspecting science fiction fans with its awesomeness back in 2009. But Neill is starting to falter. It’s not that Chappie is a bad movie, it’s just another signature Neill Blomkamp movie. Robots, dystopian slums, violent gangs, slow motion action, and shots of our hero sitting on a hill looking over a city as the sun sets. Alone they are fine, but strung together as three straight offerings from Blomkamp it seems to show he’s leveraging the the style developed in District 9 (and his shorts) to keep his career afloat. This worries me greatly since he was just handed the keys to the first new Alien movie in almost 20 years, and no, that Alien vs Predator shit does . . . not . . . count. Expunge it from history! Now, if Neill had somehow made District 9, Elysium, and Chappie some kind of loosely interconnected trilogy taking place in the same setting I’d be completely bought into him continuing to recycle his style. But they aren’t.
So, back to Chappie. Watching it I saw elements of three things. RoboCop. Short Circuit. Pinocchio. Is this bad? No. It’s a new take on common themes: robotic police forces and an automaton who wants to fit in and become a real boy. Chappie is based on Blomkamp’s short Tetra Vaal which is the name of the corporation who supplies robots to the government for policing. Chappie has been billed as lighter fare compared to his previous movies. Make no mistake, there are some funny moments in it, but Chappie is dark and violent. The most interesting aspect of the film is that it shows even the lowest form of thugs can be revealed to have hearts when love is introduced into their lives. It sounds corny that someone could love a sentient robot, but it seems to have worked for me! So who am I to criticize?
Okay, Neal, are you sure you want to use that analogy? If you are a sentient robot, does that make me a thug with heart? Not cool!
Anyway, I’m not remotely bothered by Blomkamp’s signature style as I’ve enjoyed each of his feature films. I’m far more concerned about his casting decisions. Now, don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the film and characters, but there was something I couldn’t pinpoint until the final credits started to roll . . . underscored by a really horrible song. Turns out that the characters Ninja and Yolandi are members of a South African rap/rave group Die Antwoord and they were basically playing themselves. I didn’t hate their performances; they simply didn’t share the degree of depth of the characters played by trained actors. I get the whole fanboy mentality and wanting to put your favorite group in your movie, but not as two of the main characters!
The only reason I cared about their characters at all was because Chappie loved them. Sharlto Copley, who also starred in District 9 and Elysium, brought the character to life and made me believe that this robot had feelings. I particularly liked Chappie’s interactions with Amerika (played by Jose Pablo Cantillo who was also in Elysium . . . I’m sensing a trend here) and Deon (played by Dev Patel of Slumdog Millionaire fame).
When Chappie was first “born,” he was thrust into the world of lowlife criminals who forced his “creator” (Deon) to wake him up. They taught him the thug life, and Chappie took on some characteristics of Amerika that made the robot seem all the more human. Deon risked his life every time he came back to visit Chappie, but he simply couldn’t let these scumbags negatively influence Chappie’s development. He made Chappie promise that he wouldn’t break the law or kill people. Unfortunately for Chappie, the criminals easily persuaded him that he wasn’t committing crimes.
Even though Chappie is littered with gangsters, they aren’t the real villains of the film . . . and this is where the movie turns into RoboCop. It’s a good thing that I liked this movie or that unoriginal plot device would have annoyed me.