When Chappie‘s trailers were first premiering, they were a clusterfuck of tones. It was tough to get a true reading as to whether or not the movie was meant to a Nolan-esque satire-stripped answer for RoboCop (which we got when we had… y’know, the remake of RoboCop) with its sober handling or a remake of Short Circuit with its treatment of its titular robotic character (motion-captured and squakily voiced by director/co-writer Neill Blomkamp’s favorite Sharlto Copley, never more annoying than he’s been here… ok, definitely more annoying in Oldboy) as a child’s mind on a sort of learning curve to being a full person. These are two tones that ideally can’t be mixed together in the severity that the trailers painted them in, so we’ve got to totally assume it was a fluke of marketing.
Came the release of Chappie and we realized there was no fluke. That was exactly how the fuck the movie was made jarring inability to juggle those tones and so on. Whoever cut those trailers shouldn’t be tossed off, they had an no-win job to begin with.
Let’s see if I can win something like a synopsis out of it: Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) is a robot developer in a Joburg-based weapons manufacturer Tetravaal, whose latest creation – a crew of humanoid robots capable of police objectives – has been ordered en masse by the local police force to deal with the escalating gang violence. When he doesn’t get the ok to continue tinkering with the A.I. capabilities and test out his latest development, he salvages one of the police robots himself and uploads the A.I. program. Unfortunately, while he’s doing this, he’s hijacked by one of those dangerous racketeers and God Bless Us Everyone, it is Ninja and Yolandi of Die Antwoord playing themselves.
Don’t know Die Antwoord? I’d link a song via YouTube, but I don’t want to scare off readers.
They’re also joined by a third wheel Amerika (Jose Pablo Cantillo). The three of them, after some barking demands and unconfident negotiation, force Deon to start up this little robot for their own use as an affiliate of their gang to loot and rob and go do some crime shit with. However, given how infantile the now-uploaded Chappie’s A.I. is, Yolandi takes ecstatic glee in raising him as a child and Deon begins to plot further on the possibilities of his success.
Back at the Tetravaal office, Deon’s rival is really upset that the Joburg police has less interest in them his own bulky bipedal heavy-artillery monster MOOSE and now instead of trying to sell upwards (seriously, the motherfucking thing is practically a war machine, he could seriously sell to some armies rather than a police force; also, speaking of RoboCop, MOOSE is a thinly veiled albeit functioning life off of the ED-209), he’s aiming to sabotage and discredit Deon’s work and hoping the Tetravaal CEO (holy shit, is that Sigourney Weaver? Is she seriously the first name on the list of directors who need a sci-fi cameo now?).
There was a time when I really wanted to believe in Neill Blomkamp, back when District 9 showed itself as an extremely impressive debut piece in 2009 – even despite a third act that falls apart on itself. I don’t know if I did a good enough job of summing up the movie that you didn’t notice, but Chappie doesn’t even have until its 30 minute mark. It’s a mess from the beginning.
If you were to hold a gun to my head and ask me the one that could fix this movie, I wouldn’t be able to tell. The movie begins outright with a disinterest in coherent montage work in its editing and only sinks lower from there stylistically until its climactic battle which at least gives Julian Clarke and Mark Goldblatt a singular objective and they can for once be as coherent as possible. Sure, it’s designed fine on the visual level in only a small manner – Die Antwoord’s is a great extension of their personality within the film… naive and full of eager wonder like Yolandi within its bright elements, jagged and scrawled and messy like Ninja’s attitude. We never get a good ol’ exterior of Tetravaal but the interiors feel like a broken company desperate attempts to look utilitarian. The robots themselves however are derivative in the worst ways – I already pointed out MOOSE’s shameless OCP lawsuit lurking in that universe but even the scouts themselves actually look similar to the police units in Blomkamp’s previous disappoint Elysium, although Chappie makes Elysium look like goddamn Eisenstein. The attempts to individualise Chappie by dressing him in gangsta garb like graffiti tattoos and bling not only adds “looking like Riff Raff” to his dislikable traits, but it also unfortunately makes him feel more like a prop than a character and that’s just a shame when he’s meant to be our protagonist
Avoiding what about the production design works, its the rest of the picture that just kills any good satirical fun it could be. For one, the movie demands we accept Ninja to become a hero at some point in the movie just because Moore and the gangster Hippo (Brandon Auret) are already eating up all the antagonist beats. On the other, the movie is unsatisfied with simplicity that it introduces a bunch of storylines to underline Chappie’s evolval and then dropping them before they could go anyplace. And of course, I must nod to its ending beats which are so very far-fetched and out of left field in such a very precious manner that I can’t say I hate the film for its fearlessness.
But I do still hate the film. And the dysfunctional storytelling is only part on the part of the writing, but on the fact that Blomkamp doesn’t seem half invested in facilitating the several different performances given to him into something of an ensemble. Die Antwoord, old friends of Blomkamp, are as inspired a choice as any. From what I understand, Blomkamp originally wanted Ninja, to star in Elysium, but given how absolutely frozen his mood happens to be all through this movie without any chance of allowing likability as a hero (though he does maintain being a threat for the two seconds he’s a villain), I’m glad he didn’t. The only real twists of energy is his erratic spitting of his lines which actually doesn’t liven up the movie one bit. Yolandi is certainly a better actor than Ninja, but she’s also as unrefined as any debut could be without understanding of exploring internal commentary or utilizing her new parental role as an organic character trait beyond what the script tells her to do. Patel is the most sketched, uncertain performance we’re ever meant to believe is a God complex. Jackman is a fucking riotjack, man. From the boneheaded idea of letting the man sport a fucking mullet for the role to letting him over-exaggerate his Australian to outright cartoon parody to his heavy whiplash switches from “I’m gonna shoot you down in a bloody office” to “it’s just a prank, mate!”, I don’t know if Blomkamp intended for the role to be a showstopper, but all dismissal of discipline makes Jackman just the most insane presence in a great big cast of dunces. Weaver is just absolutely on neutral, I wouldn’t even know she was breathing
The worst part is because of all of these elements that simply refuse to mesh together, Chappie‘s political message (as per Neill Blomkamp’s regular self-righteous morality inherent in his films) just isn’t recognizable. We know there’s something the movie wants to say but all these tangents and gluttony of characters and elements just makes the movie drown itself out. Chappie ends up not only a swamp to sit through but it becomes absolutely pointless when despite Blomkamp’s attempt to communicate his imagination, it just comes off as sound and fury signifying nothing (apologies to Shakespeare).
I’m just really really bitter to find out that the idiot who told this tale is going to make a fucking Alien picture on account of his fan art.