Being raised by Die Antwoord would have definitely been different, to say the least.
It’s the year 2016 in Johannesburg, an area of the world that is largely populated with crime, violence, and all sorts of dirty drug-lords creating all sorts of havoc, which is also one of the first police-forces to use humanoid-like robots to do all of the dirty work, rather than risk the fragile lives of actual humans. This is successful as it makes people rich; baddies to get taken into jail; and altogether, for society to be a whole lot safer. However, designer Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) believes that he can take it one step further: Allowing for these robots to use their subconscious as if they were actual humans, too. Deon tries this on one robot and is successful, but gets ambushed by a pack of thugs (Die Antwoord and Jose Pablo Cantillo) who are in need of a robot for themselves, so that they can teach him to commit heists and make them lots and lots of money. It’s a smart idea, and Deon is more than willing to comply with it, so long so as that he gets to help the robot learn more about the world around itself. Well, for lack of a better term, the robot does, and then some.
But most of all, he gets a name: Chappie.
So, yeah. Is the premise to Chappie incredibly goofy? Better yet, is it a mash-up with pieces of Robocop, Short Circuit, and even Neill Blomkamp’s own District 9? Well, yeah. But I’ll be damned if Blomkamp doesn’t go to hell and back with it and leave hardly any stone un-turned!
To say that Blomkamp is going for it all here, isn’t to say that he’s actually made a good film, however. It’s an interesting one, but one you can clearly tell he’s having some problems with in wondering where to go, what to say, and how he wants us all to feel when we’re walking away from it. Gone are the days where everyone felt like Blomkamp was the next big thing to come to sci-fi since James Cameron, but that doesn’t need to be such a bad thing.
A lot of people got on Blomkamp’s case for losing all sorts of subtlety with Elysium, and while I can see where some of the nay-sayers are coming from with that movie’s case, there was a part of me that had a problem hating that movie. Sure, it was messy, over-the-top, and not one bit as thoughtful as District 9, but it was fun, action-packed, gritty and not afraid of offending any sort of person who didn’t like what he was doing, or trying to say. Now, I don’t know about any of you out there, but I feel as if the sci-fi genre was built on the foundation of not giving a single piece of shit of what others say about your story, or it’s ambitions – all that matters is what you, the creator of the story, have to think about it. Basically, what it all comes down to is saying, “screw the haters!”, and being back onto your business.
And that’s what I felt like Blomkamp was, at least for the most part, doing with Chappie.
Because, even while the movie itself has the subtlety of a rock, Blomkamp seems to be playing around and having all sorts of fun with where his story goes and what it does once it gets to its destination. Like I’ve noted before, it’s mix-and-match of all sorts of different sci-fi movies, and while none of them are particularly original or ground-breaking, they still add a nice dash of creative energy to the proceedings that makes Chappie a lot different and more complex than most of the sci-fi schlock we see out there in the world.
While some movies try to be different, and in the process, fall on their knees when trying to say something smart or mind-blowing, Chappie doesn’t seem like it’s trying that. At points, Blomkamp is giving us a fun, sci-fi action-romp that seems to be digging at something deeper with its story and the characters it gives us to think about. It may seem off-putting to some that the most intriguing character in all of Chappie is that of the title-character itself, but it still works to the movie’s advantage in that we are dealing with a protagonist worth paying attention to, getting behind, and hoping that all things work out for, even if it doesn’t always make the right choices throughout the majority of the film.
Hell, you can’t even get that feeling with some humans in movies like these!
Speaking of Chappie, whatever they did to make Sharlto Copley become something of the next Andy Serkis, it totally worked. According to what I’ve read on the inter-web, Copley not only voiced Chappie, but did the motion-capture for him as well, which not only helps the animation seem more life-like, but does the same for Chappie, the character. In fact, it’s almost seamless sometimes; if you really wanted to study the movie’s animation, you could probably find all of the nooks and crannies that make this character an obvious piece of computer-animation, but there’s no need to. The CGI for this character is top-notch and if that’s all the movie was able to give me, then I’d be somewhat fine.
But that’s what’s nice, as Blomkamp takes this character one step further than just making it a pretty distraction to stare at. There’s more to the character of Chappie, which, as a result, makes it interesting to see where it goes from being literally a baby-bot, who has no idea of the world it’s been placed into, to a fully-grown, angry, gangster-bot that doesn’t take no shit from nobody. There’s obvious reasons for why Chappie turns out to be the way it is, but the movie never seems like it’s taking any cheap-shots in giving us those bits and pieces of info; Blomkamp takes his time in developing this character and those who are close to it most. Therefore, we feel and like Chappie, the character a whole lot more, which makes it hard to sometimes sit by and watch whenever it’s put into danger and the possibility of imminent death becomes even more and more of a reality.
That said, whenever Blomkamp seems to jump away from the story of Chappie, his movie gets a bit jumbled-up. For instance, the whole subplot concerning what’s going on between Deon, his boss (Sigourney Weaver), and a co-worker (Hugh Jackman), and the problems they seem to all with one another’s vision of the robots, gets a bit too goofy for its own good. Mostly though, it gets this way with Jackman, who I’m glad to see is reveling in the moment to play a baddie for once, but also feels like a half-baked villain with something of a plan, yet, loses all sorts of humanity once push comes to shove and he has to start killing any and all things. Jackman’s funny in this role and cheeky here more than ever, but it feels weird that he’d be given this villainous role and not given much of a chance to bring out any semblance of convection within him. Surely, there’s something more to him than just shooting, yelling and killing?
Or maybe I’m just too damn naive. Whatever.
Another subplot of this film that, even though it ties into Chappie’s story, still feels like its own story, and heck, maybe even its own movie. Of course, I’m talking about the fact that Die Antwoord are not only close to being the main stars of this movie, but are virtually playing versions of themselves. See, if anybody knows who the hell Die Antwoord are, they’ll know that they’re this married, South African rap group that are a bit on the strange side, and definitely aren’t the ones who you’d expect to anchor your big-budgeted, mainstream, talking-robot flick on, but for some reason, Blomkamp saw something in these two odd individuals and in some way, it kind of works for the movie.
But at the same time, doesn’t. Let me explain.
See, what’s so odd about having Die Antwoord here, isn’t that they’re actually cast in the movie and given a lot to do – it’s that they aren’t playing actual characters. Both of the characters in the movie are named “Ninja” and “Yo-landi” which, believe it or not, are actually the same names that the members of Die Antwoord go by. Even stranger, you can tell that half of the time, they didn’t even bother to show up and get dressed by the make-up and creative department; sometimes, you can even spot their band’s logos on their cars, or even on Chappie’s steel-body. It’s all weird and it made me wonder whether or not Blomkamp was fine with this, or didn’t want to get anymore involved with it, so instead, just decided to keep their crazy mannerisms in there and whatnot.
And judging by what real-life accounts have been saying, this seems more than likely the exact option.
But here’s the real kicker about Die Antwoord’s presence here – they actually work for the movie. In an odd, out-of-this-world, you-have-to-see-it-to-believe-it-way, they make most of Chappie’s scenes compelling to watch. It’s never clear whether or not Ninja and Yo-landi are acting what was given to them, or are just saying whatever gangster things they can think of on the spot, but whatever the case may be, it made most of their scenes with Chappie interesting, in that the movie sort of just lets them roll on and on, without ever getting into whether or not the movie likes, or despises these characters. Clearly we’re supposed to like them, but one is possibly more mean and evil than the other, which makes me wonder just what the overall atmosphere was like for the making behind this film.
Whatever it may have been, don’t forget, Die Antwoord are weird. But Chappie, the movie, may be even weirder.
Truly a feat in and of itself.
Consensus: In its weird ways, Chappie is a fun, riveting, and sometimes heartfelt piece of sci-fi action that doesn’t seem to care what others say and just goes for it every chance it gets, which may or may not put off some viewers. The choice is up to you!
7 / 10 = Rental!!
Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images