Friday, 17 July 2015

Chappie

I'm never quite sure what to make of Neil Blomkamp. On one hand he directed District 9, the fantastic 2009 science fiction that centred around extraterrestrials being essentially forced into a ghetto, while on the other hand he also directed Elysium, the 2013 Matt Damon romp that ended up being a mess, even if it was a good looking mess at that. When I first heard about his latest film, Chappie, it sounded liked a really awesome idea. Primarily drawing inspiration from his 2004 short film Tetravaal, on its surface Chappie sounded like Blomkamp was getting back on track after the slip up that was Elysium. However, though Chappie is better than Elysium, it loses itself as it straggles to juggle various ideas and themes that, if properly addressed, could have made for something truly great.


Directed by Neil Blomkamp and out now on Blu-Ray and DVD comes Chappie, a film that touches on some superb ideas but ultimate loses any kind of inspired thought in a hail of gunfire, explosions and muddled plot threads. Chappie is set in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2016. After crime within the city reaches boiling point, the government decide to parter up with the company Tetravaal to utilize robotic cops on the street. These robo-cops, known as Scouts, do everything a human cop can do , but much more. However, their creator, Deon Wilson, goes one step further and successfully creates an artificial intelligence program that will essentially turn a Scout into a free thinking being. But with the Scouts working out just the way they are, Deon's superior refuses to let him install the artificial intelligence into a Scout. With his life's work hanging in the balance, Deon steals a busted up Scout and drives home. However, soon after leaving the Tetravaal facility, Deon is captured by a ragtag bunch of criminals, comprised of Ninja, Yolandi and Amerika. They're hell bent on shutting down the Scouts that are moving in on their criminal activities, but with Deon and his sentient Scout now in their possession, they get more than they bargained for. The sentient Scout, called Chappie, starts off like a child but quickly learns from those around him. Torn between his maker and his criminal surrogate parents, Chappie chronicles the birth of the world's first artificial intelligence.


The best thing Chappie has going for it is Chappie himself. Chappie is played by Sharlto Copley, both in terms of Chappie's motion capture and voice. Copley's performance literally makes Chappie an enjoyable watch. Though Chappie of course learns over the course of the film, he remains childlike, innocent and absolutely lovely. Well, as lovely as a robot can be! His best moments are of those in which he's bonding with his surrogate parents, his maker or trying to take the world in. From sitting in bed and reading his favourite book with his “mommy” Yolandi, learning to shoot, walk and speak like a gangsta with his “daddy” Ninja, to confronting his maker on why he created him knowing he wouldn't live long, some of Chappie's scenes are genuinely moving. This is only further hit home by the bloody impeccable CGI used to create the character of Chappie himself too. For a film made on a 50 million dollar budget, it contains CGI that other films such as The Avengers and The Hobbit could only dream of. When you watch Chappie and see this childlike robot interact with the world, you'll absolutely believe in him as character and as a person.

The problem with Chappie is that by reading the plot description I gave in my second paragraph (which is essentially the set-up to the film), it makes it sounds way smarter than it actually is. It gives the impression of a film solely based on the importance and impact a true artificial intelligence would have on our world. Shit, even go back and watch the original teaser to Chappie. Though it does obviously show a few action scenes, it makes it sound like a really smart film, one whose message about robotic sentience would be as well thought out as District 9's message about the dangers of social segregation. Sadly this isn't the case. Though the first half of Chappie is actually pretty great, it slowly but surely dissolves into nonsense. This mostly involves the character of Vincent Moore played by Hugh Jackman, who is essentially the films villain. You see, he has his own robot, the Moose, and he's pretty salty about Deon's robot taking precedent over his bipedal walking tank. The film goes from Chappie learning about family, love and even death, to Moore going bat-shit insane, sabotaging Deon's robots, Moore suddenly becoming a seemingly religious nut and ultimately doing his best to destroy Chappie. All of this kicks of the action scenes, that while perfectly fine, essentially de-construct all the excellent things Chappie sets up in the first half. The character of Chappie himself goes from a sentient robot rejecting violence to one that causes a major chunk of the damage caused throughout the film.

Another aspect of Chappie that left a sour taste in my mouth was the casting of Ninja and Yolandi, played by the rapper duo, um, Ninja and Yolandi, who are collectively known as Die Antwood. At times they do a decent job, but it's distracting how wooden they are in Chappie. In fact, what's even worse is that throughout the film both Ninja and Yolandi seemingly wear Die Antwood related t-shirts and merchandise which, on top of the fact that they're not really that good at acting, is incredibly distracting at times. Then you have the last leg of the film, which without getting into major spoilers, delves into the idea of essentially downloading someone's conciousness onto a USB key. Multiple conciousness are saved, moved into new bodies and such, and it literally came to a point where I didn't care any more. Chappie goes from a neat little film about a sentient robot and the implications artificial intelligence might have on our world, to a film that throws endless exposition at the viewer, and bombards the screen with guns, explosions and Hugh Jackman's bizarre choice of haircut.


Overall Chappie is watchable, but don't expect the second half of the film to be as good as the first. It starts out with simple ideas with potentially profound conclusions, but ultimately squanders all of this in place for action, an overbearing use of Die Antwood music, a silly plot about that only exists so Chappie can fight another robot and some half baked ending that leaves everything up in the air like District 9. The biggest flaw with Chappie is that is literally doesn't know what its target audience is. One second it's smart and insightful, while the next it's playing up to teenagers fuelled on Mountain Dew after a 10 hour session of Modern Warfare.

Chappie has the intelligence of a calculator. 2/5.

★★☆☆☆

Denis Murphy


Chappie at CeX


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