Monday, March 9, 2015

Chappie


Critics don't like it and not surprisingly a lot of people didn't go see it. Chappie earned $13.3 million in it's opening weekend. I honestly didn't expect it to be high up on the must watch list for people. Sci-fi doesn't get much love unless it's part of a major franchise or adapted from something high profile. But even then, I was surprised at the negative reaction. But I suppose the negative and lukewarm review are not that much of a surprise either. Writer/Director Neill Blomkkamp didn't get much praise for his last film, Elysium, either. I thought that film was good. And I think Chappie is another good film as well.

(some SPOILERS to follow)

Chappie is set in the near future in Johannesburg, South Africa. Crime is rising beyond the capacity of the police, and robots from the Tetravaal company are brought in. Tetraval is run by Michelle Bradlley (Sigourney Weaver).


These Scouts are designed to augment and support the police force. They perform everyday police duties and provide front line and fire support duties for the police firefights. The Scout's designer, Deon Wilson (Dev Patel), wants to forward the project by designing sentient artificial intelligence for the robots, but that is not something Tetravaal is interested in.


Also in development at Tetravall is a larger robot dubbed MOOSE. Think Ed 209 from Robocop. The lead designer on that project is Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman), an ex solder who is jealous of Deon and the success of the Scouts. Vincent wants the MOOSE out on the streets but can't understand why the police don't want something so expensive that is clearly designed for military purposes.


(Side note, Jackman is rocking a sweet short mullet with frosted tips. This is his actual hair.)

Chappie starts out as just another police Scout, number 22 to be exact. 22 is a robot who had a history of getting damaged. The maintenance staff are never surprised to see it. One day 22 takes an RPG to the chest and is deemed to damaged to repair. Deon seizes his opportunity and steals 22 to experiment with the new AI he just perfected. Enter Die Antwoord, the rave/rap group made up of Waddy Jones aka "Ninja" and Yo-Landi Vi$$er.


(Another side note. Ninja allegedly made several bad impressions with the cast and and crew and created a lot of tension. Coincidentally, Ten$ion is the name of a Die Antwoord album.)

To understand how these two managed to appear in and influence this story so much, you have to hear it from Blomkamp himself. “There was this really weird crossover that happened while I was writing Elysium—and  has a lot of robotics in it—at the same time I was listening to a lot of Die Antwoord’s tracks... All of a sudden I got this idea for this robot—like the Elysium robots, it was a kind of police/security machine—being hijacked by this band that I was listening to. I don’t know where the hell that idea came from, but that was the genesis for Chappie.” For the film, Die Antwoord play more off the wall/criminal versions of themselves. Ninja and Yo-Landi are street thugs who owe A LOT of money to a psychotic criminal. Along with their partner America (Jose Pablo Cantillo), a Latin gang banger who somehow got himself stuck in South Africa.


(Yet another side note. A Latin-American guy has to go to South Africa to get nicknamed America?)

The gang in desperate need of cash come up with the brilliant idea of finding a remote to shut down the Scouts so they can pull off a major heist. So why not kidnap the designer of the Scouts? They jump Deon on his way home with 22. There is no remote shutoff so the plan changes. They want Deon to rebuild 22 and reprogram him to follow their orders. Deon's AI of course isn't an instant thing. The robot has to learn, much like a child. This is where Chappie picks up his street language and mannerisms. Ninja and America teach Chappie to be a thug, albeit a thug who doesn't want to shoot people, and Yo-Landi takes on the role of... mommy.


(Last side note. I promise. Sharlto Copley did the motion capture and voice for Chappie. He's starred in District 9 and Elysium.)

Yes, absurd. But this lends to some funny moments. Think of a more ghetto Johnny 5. This odd arc in the story also give the movie it's heart believe it or not. While it is hard to find sympathy for thugs, in a weird way Chappie's innocence gives these people some redemption in the end. Yo-Landi becomes more of a mother and even Ninja (taking the role of the horrible"Daddy") finds a little redemption at the end. (I guess that makes America the cool uncle?) It takes to the absolute end of the film, but it's there. If you have seen the preview, then you know the eventual showdown between Chappie and the MOOSE happens. Vincent Moore takes every opportunity to derail the Scout program and makes some pretty insane decisions that throw the city into chaos.


 I will admit, it gets a little predictable and you have to suspend your disbelief to get over the gang bangers raise a robot thing. But it is a movie after all. No new territory is covered. The obvious inspirations from Short Circuit and Robocop are there. I would call this light sci-fi with the whole what defines a soul and is artificial life really life elements. It's not there to make you ask serious questions, it's just good entertainment. While some question the probability of a story like this happening, I see it as more of what can happen when you got a bunch of desperate people who don't take the time to think out their actions. There are stranger films out there that are hailed as good. It is flawed, it's not as deep as Blomkamp's previos films District 9 and Elysium, and it could have used some more character development, but I still recommend it. I enjoyed Chappie a lot.

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