Do a Shot: for each Red Bull Deon chugs.
Take a Drink: for Hugh Jackman’s mullet.
Take a Drink: everytime Chappie learns something new.
Take a Drink: whenever Chappie misunderstands something.
Take a Drink: each time Die Antwoord act like gangsters.
By: Matt Conway (Four Beers) –
One of the young directors who has really received raves from both critics and audiences alike is Neill Blomkamp. Few would argue against his directorial debut District 9, which was one of the rare science fiction blockbusters to receive a coveted Best Picture nomination. Considered one of the best directorial debuts in quite some time, District 9 featured an interesting world built on a small scale budget and a great deal of heart as well. It was a huge surprise that got everyone on the edge of their seats waiting to see what Blomkamp would do next.
However, Blomkamp has seemingly struggled ever since. His follow up to District 9 was Elysium, the Matt Damon science fiction vehicle that seemed to have a lot of potential. Critics and audiences alike were very mixed on it, with the film’s general consensus now being more sour than sweet. Still, people had their hopes up for his latest flick, Chappie, which promised audiences another original science fiction film. Sadly though, Blomkamp has failed to deliver once again, with Chappie being a mixed bag.
Chappie is set in the near future, in which rampant crime has been stopped by new mechanized police forces. Their creator, Deon Wilson, begins to experiment, however, on a new artificial intelligence program, which leads to the invention of Chappie. Starting off with the mindset of a toddler, Chappie soon learns and grows, gaining the ability to think and feel for himself.
As usual with a Neill Blomkamp film, Chappie has such a unique and detailed world. Blomkamp clearly knows the film’s Johannesburg setting well, as he really shows the audience another side of the city. Most of the film takes place in the slums of the city, which almost becomes a character itself, with the empty buildings covered with graffiti really coming to life visually.
Blomkamp has really become known as a director with a strong sense of style, which is created not only with the locales, but the camerawork as well. Blomkamp has quite a few moments here where he really wows audiences with some impressive style choices, especially in the action scenes. The action here is exciting and tense, with Blomkamp capturing a true sense of mayhem. Cinematographer Trent Opaloch and composer Hans Zimmer’s great work also help in building a sense of style.
Carrying a lot of the film on his shoulders like he did with District 9 is Sharlto Copley, who really is the standout. Copley’s motion capture work as work as Chappie is truly great, with Copley getting across a real sense of naivety while being extremely affable. As the film goes on and Chappie continues to grow as a character, Copley’s performance gets even better, with Chappie beginning to develop is own voice with the other characters.
Chappie is written by Blomkamp and his wife Terri Tatchell, and as usual with their work, they bring up some interesting ideas. The premise truly is a unique one, and I give both of them a lot of credit for really going out of the box when it comes to a lot of aspects of the film. However, sadly a great deal of the script is misguided.
One of the more interesting aspects of the film going into it was the inclusion of Die Antwoord, a South African music group with a real interesting look. While not a fan of their very odd music, I felt like their presence could benefit the film, adding to its culture. Both Ninja and Yo-Landi Visser are essentially playing themselves as gangsters, and struggle as actors. They certainly have a unique style, but they really don’t have a character outside of their unique look. This especially is not helped by the fact that the script makes Ninja’s character so unbearable.
It’s surprising considering the high-profile nature of the cast that most of the cast does a poor job. Dev Patel is always likable, but is miscast as this apparent genius, Deon, who invented these robots. Outside of running around with Chappie, he does not have a lot to do. Hugh Jackman on the other hand plays Vincent Moore, who is sort of the film’s antagonist. He essentially is a mustache-twirling villain, and while Jackman pours effort into the performance, it fails to really stand out. Even Sigourney Weaver fails to make an impact with her limited screentime.
Not helping the cast in the slightest is the script, which fails to develop these characters very well. Everyone in the film feels like a complete cliche, essentially personified by their one or two character traits. With this being the case, I had no clue what drove these people into doing what they want to do. Why does Deon want to advance Artificial Intelligence? Why does Vincent fight so badly for his robot? The film’s answer is, “Who knows?”
Blomkamp and Tatchell’s script has a few moments that just lacks plain logic. Characters here make decisions that really make no sense at all, which just left me throwing up my hands in the air several times in frustration. This is especially the case with Vincent, who makes a decision near the film’s third act that is so incredibly stupid that I could not buy the character as someone who would work in such a high-profile place.
Where the film falls apart is its third act, which brings the film down in a big way. The film ditches its somewhat light-hearted tone and becomes suddenly incredibly dark and violent. People are being ripped into pieces, and it all just feels like such an odd tonal shift. The film just becomes really ugly, which puts a damper into the well-executed action set pieces.
The third act is then capitalized by a final ten minutes which are extremely preposterous. Blomkamp takes a real leap of faith with his audiences, but it’s apparent he fails to land that leap. The film throughout tries to tackle the idea of mortality, but kind of just cheats what it had been discussing over the past two hours. Everything about it just feels so ridiculous, and everyone in my showing of the film booed when the credits came up.
Chappie is another ambitious, and visually stunning, Neill Blomkamp film that misses the boat when it comes to execution. Despite two duds in a row, I am not giving up on Blomkamp yet, as he is one of the few directors who really goes for making smart blockbusters.