On the promotion circuit of his latest film, Chappie, director Neill Blomkamp weirdly apologised for his 2013 film Elysium and how it turned out. I personally didn’t feel Elysium was the misstep people perceived it to be but they have generally been justified by the South African director’s comments and admission of his mishandling that sci-fi film. However if he deemed it proper to apologize for a film as creditable and coherent as Elysium, Blomkamp should be looking to go to every country Chappie was screened, hell, every cinema house and apologize for the end product he deemed fit for the viewing public. Chappie is a failure on so many levels it becomes stupefying. It’s indolent, horribly written with surprisingly abject editing and painfully lacking heart and invention.
This film is set in the not too distant future and the police force in Johannesburg, South Africa has been replaced with human-sized robots that have been efficient enough police the city and inspire a drop in criminal activity. The robots are supplied by weapons manufacturing and defence firm, Tetra Vaal, and the impact of the robots has led to a business is boom with other countries set to place orders.
The brain behind these androids is Deon (Dev Patel) who is well lauded within the company but still a little unfulfilled as his heart is set on creating a more sentient being that may be of more meaning to society than a platoon of initially impressively intimidating android enforcers. His boss though, played by Sigourney Weaver, has no interest in robots that can feel like humans and even “write poetry”. Deon defies her and eventually uses a damaged a robot as the staging ground for his program that may be able endow robots with traits akin to actual humans.
Not everyone is happy with the police androids Deon created and at the top of that list is probably Vincent (Hugh Jackman), whose own prototype robot for a crime-fighting has been pushed aside. His creation looks like machinery that would be more at home in the extra-terrestrial battlefields in Starship Troopers rather than urban Jo’burg and really Vincent should have left that style of robot behind with the ED-209 in Robocop 2.
The crime world is of course also incensed by Deon’s robots and their strides in crime fighting so some of the ditsiest group of gangsters (Ninja, Yo-Landi Visser, Jose Pablo Cantillo) come up with the silly plan to find the remote used to switch the robots on and off so they can pull of a heist with a humungous score so they can pay off a debt to the local crime lord. nonsense of course but they figure out Deon is the brain behind the police robots and they kidnap him and ask for the remote that obviously does not exist. Deon however has a robot with him and the get him to boot it up so they too can have an advantage in their criminal activities. Chappie is thus born.
At this point the film has been pretty jaded and has a real opportunity to elevate itself and add Chappie to the list of recent charming onscreen robots like Baymax, TARS and CASE and hell, even Wall-E. I can tell you that Chappie will not even appear in the footnotes when the story of cinematic androids are being told unless of course we are counting down the worst robots. Sharlto Copley is very unimpressive in this CGI peformance and doesn’t play him as an AI that slowly grasps the ways of mankind, he plays him as a big metallic child which might as well been a baby monkey.
The film does its best to humanize him but not for a moment do we feel like he desires love and care even though he inspires ridiculous feelings of motherhood in Yo-landi, the female member of the gang. She and Deon try to nurture him, teach him to paint and so on but Ninja and Amerika, the others of the gang, are more interested in introducing to a life of crime so he can help them with their big heist. Blomkanp’s previous films have largely been politically conscious but here the focus here is on the fostering of this delicate mind as Chappie’s torn between the morals of his creator or the crime and violence on the other side but there is nothing by way of and coherent execution with the films tone all over the place.
The direction may be all over the place but the script is criminal especially with the way it handles the characters. I thought of Patel and the Transformers movies came to mind. Sigourney Weaver showed up in Cabin in the Woods, a terrible film, but I was still filled with glee because it fit in that films overall direction but over here she has paycheck stamped across her forehead much like Chappie has “reject” across his.
Why rappers Ninja and Yo-Landi Visser were casted to play themselves I do not know but it would not matter if they brought in Jared Leto and Ed Norton, they are given rubbish to work with. Finally we have Hugh Jackman, ex SAS, who believes that man should always be in control of robots and he could have worked as the films primary antagonist if it puts even a little faith in him but nah.
Chappie is drivel and drivel is sometimes tolerable but this type of driveI I hate, the type that thinks it is wading in abstractly poignant territory. It starts off like a less glossy version of i-Robot but unravels into the abstract musings and nonsense of Transcendence – I hated it. I had high expectations at the beginning of the year which I try to avoid but Blomkamp didn’t just let me down, I felt like I was being insulted – there where points I was begging for the senseless explosions of the Transformers movie and to lower anyone to that level is reprehensible. If I watch a worse film this year I will be stunned. Before I saw this the news of Blomkamp helming the new Alien film exited me but now I’m not so sure. Maybe it will be his shot at redemption and if he does something akin to Aliens, I will forgive him. For Now I have placed him in the M. Knight Shamalay camp.
Chappie of course is not a word in the English language so it had that red line under it denoting a grammatical error in word and guess the first word appearing to correct it – “Crappie” which is a fish but of course crappy came to mind and that is the nicest thing that should ever be said about Chappie.