A series of film reviews and opinion pieces from a film student and all round movie lover! Happy reading!
I believe comic book writer Mark Andreaco said that if Neill Blomkamp released his films in reverse-chronological order, he’d be a great director…
We’ll wait and see how his next few films pan out because having just released his third film, it’s too early to make such judgments. Having said that, “Chappie”, Blomkamp’s most recent release, has set that statement/prediction in motion, and it’s rather upsetting.
Having one of the best debut releases since the turn of the century with “District 9”, Neill Blomkamp grabbed the attention of many audiences the world over. I remember watching “District 9” and being quite blown away by its originality and style.
With effects that made its $30million budget appear like $60million, and a superb layout to match, “District 9” was highly impressive and solidified itself as one of the great modern sci-fi pictures. I remember thinking after watching “District 9” that we haven’t and probably won’t see anything like it again. I was right…until I saw “Chappie”.
The reason I’m extensively discussing “District 9” in a “Chappie” review is that whilst watching Blomkamp’s latest picture, noticing the various similarities within, I was thinking to myself, “I really wish I was watching District 9 right now…”
It’s only now that I’m realising how disappointing “Chappie” was as an overall film. During the screening and afterwards, although I wasn’t overly impressed with it and wished to be watching something else, “Chappie” appeared to be okay.
I was never bored and I found myself believing the characters much more than I should have.
With what I now realise to be a mismatched cast with horribly divided screen time and a wonderful narrative opportunity going down the drain, there must have been an element of Stockholm syndrome in the mix.
Johannesberg 2016; a mechanical police force monitors and controls crime producing increasingly significant results. After one of the machines is damaged and deemed unfixable, inventor/programmer Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) seizes the opportunity to give the obsolete unit life, but in a different and exiting way. Wilson has been working on a program capable of allowing robots to possess consciousness and learn just like a human being.
Wilson takes the risk to disobey orders from short lived and under-utilised boss Michele Bradley (Sigourney Weaver) and creates Chappie, a remarkable sentient machine.
Trouble ensues and before too long Chappie and Wilson wind up under the control of Ninja and Yolandi, two hoodlum haircuts with the combined acting talent of, well…just see for yourself.
In what becomes the films narrative shift into disappointment, Chappie changes from a sweet and endearing, innocent robot to a trash-talking criminal that steals cars and throws knives at people.
It should be mentioned however that he is still a naive and innocent consciousness, and the film attempts to make a statement regarding influence of the youth and abuse of power when it comes to technology.
This works for the most part, at least initially. Just before what felt like the half way point, “Chappie’s” narrative shift confirmed that it was past the point of no return and we would’t be seeing the film that would have been far more interesting unfold. The could-have-been story focuses on Hugh Jackman’s Vincent Moore and his man-operated police unit designed for similar circumstances as Wilson’s.
Although there are hints at a possible thematic focus on ethics and morality, the butting of heads between Patel and Jackman did not reach the levels of potential in the slightest.
Furthermore, like my girlfriend’s mother mentioned, I do not buy Hugh Jackman as a villain for a second!
And finally, the whole ‘Aussie bloke-thing’ he was going for was almost laughable at points. It appears Blomkamp simply sat at his computer and Googled “typical Australian engineer from the ’70s”. What we’re left with is a mullet, a rugby ball and a character who is “as mad a frog in a sock”.
He even pulls a gun on Wilson in the office as a practical joke, a traditional Australian pastime…
The characters across the board are disappointing for the most part. With the rare exception being Sharlto Copley as Chappie and Dev Patel as Deon Williamson, the characters are annoying, poorly explored and miscast.
The two central villains/general thugs, Ninja and Yo-Landi Visser (better recognised for their interesting music work under stage name ‘Die Antwoord’) have already taken the award for the ‘most annoying characters of 2015’.
Unlikeable, unsympathetic and highly infuriating, the pair are obviously designed this way, which is fine, but I don’t see the need to cast Die Antwoord for such a role. What’s worse is that they play versions of themselves that is somewhere in between truth and fiction.
Long story short, they can’t act, they alienated me more than they engaged me, and the attempt to evoke some sympathy for the characters didn’t really work. Perhaps through a maternalistic approach with Yolandi did we get a glimmer of emotion and a strong theme, but sadly it didn’t have a huge effect on me.
“Chappie” showed real potential from its synopsis, cast, director and promotional material. It was an anticipated film that sadly didn’t live up to the hype.
There was a fascinating and clever narrative path to travel down which dealt with A.I, consciousness, ethical issues and morality, whilst utilising the stellar cast to their full potential. Instead, we were left with a man named Ninja trying to teach a robot how to strut and become “Gangsta number 1, yo!”.
Some performances were fine, but dispassionately, “Chappie” was a major misfire for Blomkamp.
I’m still intrigued to see what he does with the “Alien” franchise though. As long as there’s no Die Antwoord, I’ll be a happy chappie!