Movie Review: Chappie

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This is my mandatory opening sentence that appears in every Chappie review that says I loved District 9.  Next up is my obligatory follow-up sentence talking about how disappointed we all collectively were for Elysium.  And of course, the opening paragraph’s closing sentence which asks a hopeful question to the readers: “But will Chappie be a return to glory for Neill Blomkamp?”  I’m just following Chappie review guidelines here, people.

Anyway, I finally got around to seeing the movie a few days later than I wanted (busy edit schedule since I’ve been back from Florida), and I’ve been excited for it with every new trailer and commercial.  I was actually a little surprised that there was so much hate for it going into its release.  Why is everyone who hasn’t even seen it dumping on it, again?  Because Blomkamp keeps making movies in the same poverty porn, mech suit South African universe?  Is it because Elysium let you down so much?  I don’t know.  You tell me.  I’m capable of forgiving a guy for making a mediocre second movie after a phenomenal first one.  I’m at least going to give his third movie a *chance*…  But I guess audiences didn’t care to try, as my fiance and I were the only people who even bothered to show up to the movie:

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I just meant that pic as an unfair joke, because that was a 10:30 pm Tuesday screening during a weather advisory that told people not to drive their cars that night (we did anyway).  BUT the sentiment stays the same, as Chappie only pulled in about $13 million in its opening weekend, which doesn’t bode well for people (like me) who like R-rated science fiction movies not based on any popular source material.  Sorry that it’s not based on a comic book with a built-in fan base…  Not everything needs to be.  And that’s coming from someone who loves comic book movies.

Chappie, if you are unaware, is a film about a South African future where a robot police force has been implemented, and crime has gone down.  The creator of the robots, Deon (Dev Patel), has also been working on creating a program that can give a robot fully functional consciousness, and installs it in a broken robot with a five-day battery life against his boss’ orders.  In the process, he gets hijacked by a bunch of thugs played by South African rap duo Die Antwoord, who have become something of a major talking point for the film.

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Putting Die Antwoord (Ninja and Yo-landi [NOT THEIR REAL NAMES]) in the movie was certainly interesting gimmick casting.  In all honesty, all of the articles about how terrible of a person Ninja was on set, and how he got written out of the movie, and how they did things their own way kind of *adds* to my experience.  It adds an additional layer to the movie as I’m watching it, making me wonder what the process was for making the movie with people as unstable as they were.  Also, I kept staring at them because they are the two of the weirdest looking people I’ve ever seen.  There were moments when I was supposed to be watching Chappie doing something, and I was just staring at those two Mad Max looking crazy people, because I just know that that’s how they dress in real life, too.

I didn’t necessarily think they were bad actors, either.  They weren’t great, but were you expecting them to be?  They probably pulled it off better than some random person on the street could have.  Plus, they totally fit into the universe of the movie, and just added another insane element to the whole thing.  They are basically South Africa’s answer to the Insane Clown Posse, and as I may have mentioned before, I’m sort of obsessed with juggalo culture.  The only gimmick casting better than Die Antwoord would have been to put ICP in the Robocop remake last year.  Hey, they’re both from Detroit.

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Chappie’s plot, which will probably come under the most scrutiny from the people who dislike the movie (or assume they’ll dislike the movie), does admittedly have its holes.  There are some major questions as to why certain characters are doing certain things, like why didn’t Deon just use his consciousness program on a smaller robot that he built at home or something?  I’m sure you could find plenty of stuff like that.  But it’s also got a lot of genuinely decent philosophical questions about what it means to be human, and what’s the point of being alive if you are just going to die?

I’m not 100% sure that any question ever gets answered, especially with the way the film ends, but the fact that it tries at all is better than, like, Transformers has ever done, for example.  I mean, even District 9, which gets praised for having deeper social messages within a big science fiction movie, is still *really* pretty much just a movie about an alien trying to build an escape pod and a guy who really doesn’t want to turn into a giant space bug.  In relation to that, Chappie is about a robot that becomes aware of itself, gets raised to be a criminal, and fights a bunch of gangsters and other robots.  Not everything needs to have some deeper meaning, but it is nice when the filmmaker tries, like Blomkamp has.  I’ll take a splashy romp with a little extra effort at heart like this any day of the week.  There’s a series of scenes about a third of the way through this that feels like watching a mentally handicapped dude get bullied, or a puppy getting kicked.  Depressed the hell out of me.  How many times do you feel genuinely sad during your usual robot movies?  I think the emotions you feel for the character of Chappie will vary from person to person, but in my case I thought they pulled off the “humanity in a robot” angle pretty well.  And there’s a bunch of explosions.  That’s always good with IMAX speakers.  Just sayin’.

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But I’m sureBlomkamp is getting a ton of crap for the way that this feels like a collection of stolen ideas; mainly (and obviously) from Robocop, Short Circuit, and most of all, his own movie District 9.  However, I look at Chappie as an insane 1980’s punk rock, almost Troma level movie, but with a $50 million budget and awesome special effects (which were often so amazing that I had trouble deciphering what was CGI and what was practical, if anything was).  There’s so many great, weird elements in the film, and sometimes all it takes for me to really like a movie is to be a decent collection of weird moments.  I’ll definitely watch a slightly incoherent movie with awesome moments over a coherent movie with nothing exceptionally crazy about it, but that’s just me.

And it seemed like Blomkamp was having fun with the strangeness.  You don’t put things in your movie like a moment when Deon hilariously orders his robot butler to clean his room, without being aware of the silly humor behind it, right?  Or having an auxiliary bad guy dressed like he belongs in a post apocalyptic jungle, whose South African accent is so bad he needs subtitles despite the fact that he’s speaking English.  And I haven’t even mentioned the fact that Hugh Jackman is perfect as a mulleted Australian weapons engineer with cargo shorts and a huge orange pickup truck.  Normally I only get to praise a great cinematic mullet once in a blue moon, but this movie had about five noteworthy mullets.  C’est magnifique!

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Listen, I’m not sure how to recommend this movie to people.  I liked it plenty, but I could see someone else totally hating it.  I think your stance on hating it will be heavily gauged on how stupid you think it looks before you even see it.  If you go into the movie with a bad attitude, looking for things to hate because you want it to fail, you’ll most certainly find a whole bunch of things to complain about.  But if you go in with an open mind and a fun attitude like I did, you’ll find a ton of elements that are really great.  Some other reviews I’ve read felt like the author was actively seeking things to hate about it as they watched it, instead of just enjoying it for being fun.

In fact, if you’re not already excited to see Chappie before you go, don’t even bother to see it.  I’ll just say it right now, and save you the money.  You’re just going to nitpick it and ruin it.  It’s not worth your time.  I mean, if you can’t get behind a movie about Die Antwoord training a fully intelligent robot to commit crimes while getting chased by Hugh Jackman in cargo shorts, I assume you weren’t planning on seeing this anyway.

If you go in with a skeptical, negative ‘tude:  5 out of 10

If you go in with an oddball, positive ‘tude:  8 out of 10

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