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Chappie

Review by: 
Big McLargehuge
Release Date: 
2015
Studio: 
Sony
Genre: 
SF/Action
Format: 
Theatrical
Region: 
N/A
Aspect Ratio: 
N/A
Directed by: 
Neill Blomkamp
Cast: 
Sharlto Copley
Dev Patel
Ninja
Yo-Landi Visser
Hugh Jackman
Movie: 
3
Extras: 
0
Bottom Line: 
3

"Neill Blomkamp's making me a movie star!"  - Yo Landi Vi$$er – "Baby's on Fire"

There's plenty of scuttlebutt about the third film from South African auteur Neill Blomkamp and how the overall crappiness of Chappie could potentially scuttle his shot at a 5th film (in the increasingly unnecessary...) Alien series. So, to get some of the same crap out of the way that is being said in the other reviews – yep, this is pretty much Short Circuit 2 with the end bits of Robocop welded on as bookends. Rather than having Officer Murphy rediscover his humanity, Johnny Five figures out how to be human. There; that's the plot.

Lots of shit has been spread around about that plot and how it's about as new to science fiction as a trope as time travel, space ships, and ray guns.

Here's the thing though, putting all of that aside there is a lot of really good stuff to chew on in Chappie  that, down the road, I think will draw a longer lasting fan base than either of the films from which it so liberally cribs. There is some thought provoking stuff in here, a well structured religious allegory, and a really well done introduction to the idea of the technological singularity without even really making it an issue – that is no mean feat, believe me. Sure, there's some bad stuff – Hugh Jackman, Sigourney Weaver, Dev Patel, and Jose Pablo Cantillo. There's some unnecessary and ultimately hilarious office politics stuff as part of this story that looks like it was dropped in from another half-completed movie, and then there's Die Antwood : Ninja and Yo-Landi Vi$$er, playing themselves-playing themselves as the people who spend the most time with Chappie the robot.

The thing with Die Antwoord is you have to sort of know who they are to understand how weird it is to have them in this film. The characters of Ninja and Yo-Landi are a South African rap group with three really good, funny, rap albums out. Ninja is really a guy named Watkins Tudor Jones and has, since the creation of Die Antwood so become the character he created that his previous incarnation such as the CEO of Constructus Corportation (where he played another rapper but this one a character who wore business casual and had an executive assistant who played PowerPoint slides while he rapped), to the even further back folky guitar player coffee house musician Watkins Jones. He and Yo-Landi are so buried in their characters that to see them playing fictional versions of fictional characters is very interesting.

The other thing is, you sort of have to dig their music to get the most out of their performances here as there are dozens if not hundreds of call backs to their art and music, the stories in the songs, and their stage presence.

Neill Blomkamp should get props for casting Die Antwoord not only because they are a sort of South Aftican rap freakshow, but because, like him, they are the most well known South African export that isn't anti Apartheid concerts or quotes from the end of Lethal Weapon 2 and their built in audience should will drive ticket sales. I am not ashamed to say I've been looking forward to Chappie since Ninja and Yo-Landi were announced as stars in it – I am a fan, and that's good for me because they are so sewn into the film that, I swear on a stack of Dr. Dre Beats Head Phones, that it might as well be a giant Die Antwoord music video.

Constant collaborator Sharlto Copley provides the voice of Chappie and I realized how much his voice imprinted on me in District 9 because almost every time Chappie said something I expected to hear "Fucking Prawns!" yelped out.

Let's walk through the plot at a high level, at TetraVaal – Fans of Blomkamp's work know that name and the robot policeman idea from his award winning short for Nike sneakers back before District 9 was produced – is a weapons company who has a contract to provide the first ever robotic policeman to work in conjunction with live policemen in the mean streets of Johannesburg. The opening crawls lays out a future urban landscape rife with armed, roving gangs with a taste for police blood. The Scouts, as the robots are called, provide armored protection and virtually unstoppable assault forces for the flesh and blood cops who run the operations that the Scouts support.

The developer of the Scouts, Deon (Dev Patel) is enjoying the success of that program but also skunk working on his own artificial AI. Competing for the attention of the TetraVaal boss Michelle (Sigourney Weaver) is Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman) a former military weapons specialist still laboring on a monstrous urban assault robot that requires a remote human pilot to operate.

Finally there's Scout 22, who will soon be named Chappie, a regular robot who takes an RPG to the chest which fuses his battery to his chest housing. He is assigned by Deon for scrap.

All of these characters are less important than Ninja, Yo-Landi, and Amerika who owe a debt for some drugs to a hilariously grunty high level caveman of a dealer named Hippo (Brandon Auret) who screams all of his lines in English yet still requires subtitles to be understood. He also, at the end of the film faces off against a giant kill bot wearing nothing but cargo pants. He's a fantastically unintentionally funny idiot villain character who is meant to provide a motivation for Ninja and Yo-Landi to move their half of the plot forwards. That is, to pull a bank heist and get Hippo's money but to do that they need to find a way to keep the Scouts from ruining everything. In fact, it's their initial meeting with Hippo that gets Scout 22 damaged enough to be scrapped. To do that they need to find "the remote" that turns all of the Scouts off.

That remote is Deon.

By the time this all shakes out Deon has loaded his artificial intelligence into Scout 22, Yo-Landi becomes his defacto mother, Amerika and Ninja become his father, and Chappie becomes a robotic boy who questions his place in the world refracted through the insane life of Ninja and Yo-Landi. Chappie has only 5 days to live as his battery can't be replaced.

Now, it's easy to write a bunch of this off as dressing for a redo of Short Circuit 2 – which is sort of is – but it gets deeper into the metaphysical questions that this sort of story always brings up. Why are we here? Why do we die? If there is an all powerful God and we are made in its image why do we have a finite life? Why do people kill one another? Where does consciousness live? Is there a soul.

I dug all of this stuff even though I've seen it done in other films. I liked it here because I liked the design of the Scout robots, I liked the dialogue between Ninja and Yo-Landi and Chappie. I liked the look of the film too – Blomkamp uses Johannesburg much less than in his other films here, but it still maintain the sort of tan on tan slum-ringed megatropolis of both District 9 and Elysium.

I also liked lots of the stuff that didn't work, and that is where the film is going to earn its longevity in the DVD and streaming market. Hugh Jackman has always been a sort of so-so actor for me. He's good at Wolverine and kind of sucks at everything else. Well here is way into the territory on everything else. Whoever dressed him up like evil Steve Irwin should definitely get a nod at the Razzies. His mullet and the giant empty pistol he carries around absolutely light up the screen with flicking, glowing, 1 billion candlepower fucking awfulness. It's a performance so gloriously bad it is almost worth the ticket price alone.

But his terribleness gets upstaged by none other than Sigourney Weaver who, for all 2 minutes of her screen time, appears to be forcibly holding back two gallons of creamed corn enema poop and delivering lines that are restatements of the lines that the other characters say to her. It's like her character from Galaxy Quest was sent back in time to be the CEO of a weapons company specializing in police robots. Her role could have literally been filled by anyone in South Africa but for some reason they spent the cash on Weaver. My guess is it dovetails into the whole possible (and utterly unnecessary) Alien movie.

Speaking of cash, all the talk of this movie tanking has me a little surprised. This cannot be a high budget movie. Hugh Jackman is the most expensive thing in it and since this isn't a Wolverine title I don't see how he rates much above scale. Die Antwoord can't be too expensive, and the whole film appears to be shot on like 5 sets – an empty factory where Die Antwoord live, the tiny cube farm at TetraVaal, a warehouse room at TetraVaal, a car park at TetraVaal, and Deon's 100 square foot living room.

Seriously, that's it. Throw in the cost of a couple of white vans to have the TetraVaal logo CGId onto the side and we're talking, what, 50 million? Can't be more than that or Niell Blomklamp really is Max Bialystock and he is taking tens of millions of dollars to Rio...

I am pretty sure that's not the case though. This film is satire, it's brilliant fucking satire of gun culture.

 

SPOILER ALERT!

Vincent is able to deactivate all of the Scouts – even Chappie – which causes an instant revolution in Johannesburg, as if the entire city was populated only by gangs like Hippo's gang. Thus, as soon as the Scouts go offline all 16 million people immediately go insane and start shooting one another up and robbing every store in every neighborhood in the city. All that's left to stand between total chaos and order is Vincent and "Moose" the giant military robot he can't seem to convince anyone to take seriously as a police tool.

A police tool with rockets, cluster bombs, chain guns, and a person-shredomatic claw that is very good at dividing up some of the cast members in very gory fashion. When Vincent pitches this to the local cops who have just announced that they are purchasing an additional 100 Scouts, the Police Chief asks – "airborn targets? Bunkers? Tanks? We're a police force. We deal with muggers and loitering..."

This goes completly over Vincent's head because he lives in a completely different universe than the Police Chief. Much like gun nuts live compared to the rest of us.

The only thing that can stop a bad man with a gun is a good man with a gun (or a giant robot with the power of an armored battalion).

Well, he takes it out ostensibly to destroy Chappie, but also to demonstrate to the world that his project has value, he'll kill everyone around Chappie too. What I realized during these scenes is that I had been transported into the fevered mind of Wayne Laperriere of the National Rifle Association. I realized that I was most likely seeing what he sees when his eyes are jammed closed and his dominant hand is slicked in Gun OilTM and visions of violent Armageddon play out behind his lids while he jerks off to a slideshow of silhouette targets, Cabellas catalog pages, and pictures of the Sandy Hook victims until he ruins another Blue-tooth keyboard with protein discharge.

This is the word that all of the gun nuts I know, all of the open carry psychos, all of the ammosexual freaks think we live in. Here it is, clear as day right on the screen, and my god are they terrified. A world where the only thing standing between them and a gang of shirtless drug dealers with AK-47s is them, their AKs, and as much ammunition as a human can possibly have before he declares himself a foreign army. When Deon breaks down and buys a revolver and ammo to shoot Ninja and rescue Chappie, it's a final nail in the coffin in the lid of gun control where the only law is the law of the gun. Even the sensitive liberal character has succumbed to the quest for personal justice.

So, for that alone I can't thank Neill Blomkamp enough. His vision has shown me the inside of crazy people's skulls.

Crazy people who live all around us.

END SPOILERS!

 

There's more crap too, Dev Patel doesn't manage to play a genius as well as Fisher Stevens, he's always a full step or two behind Chappie so every time he interacts with him it's irritating that he has to "oh wow" and "golly gee" at all of the new swear words and stuff that Chappie's learned.

The office scenes are awesome drinking game materials. Get a big bottle.

  • Whenever Vincent scowls at Deon over his cube wall is one drink.
  • Deon has an action figure of the Scout on his desk, Vincent has an action figure of the Moose, when you seem them, that's a drink.
  • Drink when Hugh Jackman genuflects.
  • Drink when you can see in Sigourney Weaver's eyes that she's just let a little of the creamed corn colonic shart slip through the brown ring.
  • Drink when you realize that TetraVaal has no human resources department and that an office full of people can witness a coworker put gun to the head of another coworker and pull the trigger (it's was unloaded) and play if off as a joke. Ha Ha Ha...
  • The script is so damaged in the office scenes that Deon doesn't even tell Sigourney Weaver that Vincent just dry fired him at his desk. You might as well just drink right through them.
  • Drink (if you don't crack up laughing) every time you see Vincent with his polo shirt tucked into his khaki shorts – "Crikey!"

So in the end of Chappie a good film? Sure. It's entertaining and if you aren't going in expecting 2001 A Space Odyssey, then you'll probably get a few chuckles at worst, and introduced to Die Antwoord at best. So there's that. It's not a sequel or a reboot, though it borrows enough from previous films to nearly be, it's not entirely original, but it's original enough.

But it might be best to wait until it's streaming, when you can bring a bunch of friends over, some booze, and spend some time laughing at Hugh Jackman as he shadow plays the fevered mind of the National Rifle Association rampaging through the Zefside Zol courtesy of Neill Blomkamp.

 

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