I really didn’t want to write anything on Blomkamp’s Chappie. Partially because it has been in the cinemas for a wee while now, and mainly because I still haven’t quite made up my mind about this film that left my brain and bones confused and gooey.
If you haven’t seen this film, let me just shout out a quick spoiler alert here. If you’re one of those people who hate knowing your movie fate stop reading now. If you’re not planning on seeing it anyway (according to box office numbers, many people decided against it), here’s my valued two cents.
Writer/Director Neill Blomkamp is the South African man behind Chappie, who after his first stunning and edgy District 9 claimed yawn-inspiring Elysium with Matt Damon.
We start out in the traditionally gloomy future in Johannesburg. The city is populated to its brim; violence is caused by gangs and other scum. In order to keep the peace in the dusty streets, robo-cops called Scouts have been invented by Slumdog Millionaire Dev Patel.
That’s a pretty awesome thing. We sense what could happen if all the robo-cops are turned evil. We clap our hands in gleeful anticipation of the awesomeness about to happen.
Dev Patel works at some American/South African weapons company together with Sigourney Weaver and Hugh Jackman. Weaver has no reason to be in this film at all, and wishes she was back in the safe and loving embrace of an Alien. Jackman, crafter of a killing machine called Moose (haha), plays the jealous and mischievous antagonist in his most terrible role yet. He wears Bermudas, his hair in the most frightening mullet since Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker, and he carries gun and mobile phone attached to his belt. Just in case we didn’t get right away that he was up to no good.
We learn that Patel has been working on creating true, real, superduper humanlike artificial intelligence. He wants to implant his software (or whatever) into one of the Scouts to test it.
Because Sigourney Weaver needs something to say, she says no.
Patel steals a Scout anyway, because film.
He steals the one with the orange antenna-ear, so we can distinguish him from other robo-cops.
In the meantime, caricature gangstas Yo-Landi and Ninja (played by rappers Yo-Landi Visser and Ninja from Die Antwoord, names were not changed for marketing reasons) come up with great plan: They will kidnap the inventor of the robo-cops and steal his robo-cop remote to switch them all off.
Stupid? Yes. But Yo-Landi Visser’s pastel coloring is even worse. They’re really dumb so I guess we’re not supposed to like them right away until…
Enter topless Dude even more caricature more gangsta who not only features dreadlocks, but is also the only character with subtitles. He really didn’t need any, though, because he only growls:”This is my town!” We know, people are only bad until you meet somebody who is even badder.
Pastel Yo-Landi and hyper-masculine Ninja kidnap Patel and the stolen Scout.
Then there’s a whole lot of hubbub that’s not particularly well written and finally, Patel installs his program in orange-eared Scout. Orange-eared Scout becomes first true, real, superduper humanlike AI. And he’s also a kid, and a he, apparently.
Patel leaves Scout with gangstas (?), but tells them to be cautious, since Scout is like a child. He needs to be taught properly. Like a sponge he will soak up what he learns from his environment.
Yo-Landi, oddly maternal towards tin man, names him Chappie. Chappie learns to speak – Sharlto Copley, an actor we got to know and love in fascinating District 9, voice-acts Chappie.
Here’s where it all gets really weird.
Yo-Landi has Chappie call her Mommy, and Ninja Daddy.
Even stranger, Patel tells Chappie he’s his Maker.
… Kinda like a god.
Now we have the nuclear family united under God.
Luckily, conflict waits right around the corner: Chappie is angry with his Maker (Prometheus!) because he put him in a defect body. His battery will run out.
He asks about being transferred into a new body, to which Maker Patel answers with millennium-old philosophy: “We don’t know what consciousness is.” We don’t know what makes us human, what makes us machine. Where lies the boundary?
Fuck it, thinks Chappie, and ends the discussion five minutes later, when he copies a human consciousness into a machine with the help of ten PS4’s.
I’m really getting tired of writing all this nonsense… so in a nutshell, the four biggest spoilers:
1) Jackman isn’t smart enough to turn Scouts evil. He makes their hard drives explode instead.
2) Jackman finally uses his Moose, ripping people to pieces.
3) Patel dies, but Chappie transfers his consciousness into another Scout shell. Whether he is now machine or human isn’t really up for discussion. Perhaps he’s both. I mean, I would be seriously disturbed if I found myself in a tin and looked down on my dead body. I’d be ever so sad to from now on miss out on all the goody-feely things we can do with our bodies. You know?
4) Yo-Landi also dies, but Chappie transfers her tiny brain into a new female robot. Because all the Scouts were apparently designed for boys.
Of course, the visual effects are stunning. And it’s incredible how animators can express emotion through the means of antenna-ears, handlebars, and LED eyes.
But it is difficult to say who this film is for and why.
It’s too rough on the edges for a kids-movie, but when Chappie imitates dumb gangsta moves and speaks dumb gangsta lines, I wish I wasn’t over fourteen. The film doesn’t know which niche to penetrate. This dilemma may have also caused the disappointing box office results, with an R-rated film that looks like a kiddy adventure. Equally indecisive has the promotion been:
The poster promises: “Humanity’s last hope isn’t human.” Humanity isn’t in any danger, at all, ever in this film. And if Chappie were our last hope, God help us.
Confusing is also its title’s unfortunate closeness to dog food:
Word of truth:
My main problem with Chappie’s is the existence of District 9.
Blomkamp set his own bar incredibly high with his first flick. The fear of hybridization, the fear of becoming the other – the alien – was never better portrayed in any motion picture. The capacity for endless metaphors was striking, and the seamlessness of visual effects blending with reality left us in awe.
It’s hard to imagine that the same man had anything to do with his second film Elysium, one of the most predictable stories right after Titanic (she will sink), the Downfall (Hitler will kill himself), and Dracula Untold (Yes, Vlad will become Dracula). Blomkamp himself didn’t like Elysium, as you can read here.
With Chappie, both Blomkamp and us were hoping he would re-conjure that magic and brilliance we know he is capable of.
Well, I believe he didn’t.
I’m a sad maryberry today.
And a confused maryberry.
And I feel a little dirty.
And a confused maryberry.
And I feel a little dirty.