Chappie (2015)

Final Rating: 4.2/10

Here is what I thought of Chappie, otherwise known as a massive Die Antwoord music video.

It has been a very long time since I have seen stars of a movie take control of its own entire creation this heavily. Ironically, it happens in Neill Blomkamp’s third feature Chappie. Chappie is about a robot who was given artificial intelligence by his creator (Dev Patel). He has the capabilities of doing so much, yet he is hijacked by some criminals who live in the slums. He grows up to be violent and like somewhat of a gangster. Chappie could have been an interesting take on how society corrupts the innocent. Instead, Chappie became a purpose to have explosions, swearing and a robot acting “zef”. 

There have been stories about Die Antwoord being difficult to work with on this movie. I have no idea how true they are, but it is blatantly obvious that one of two things happened here. Either Blomkamp is a large supporter of theirs and he wanted to make a tribute to their counter culture phenomenon, or he let the two rave rappers dictate almost each and every move. The fact that they are named after their real life alter egos is not a good sign. The refusal to step outside of their Die Antwoord characters could have made for an interesting aspect of the movie, but not to this extent. When you have close ups of the members being streamed throughout the entire movie, the constant mentioning of their stage names, the persistent use of their songs and the ending that honoured the band like a fan made video, you will lose track of what the movie was meant to be in the first place. Are we looking at a robot struggling to understand humanity’s complexities or are we watching a Die Antwoord film that tries to capture the recent crazes like The Beatles achieved with A Hard Days Night? You cannot have both, and Chappie is proof of this.

We cannot blame everything on Die Antwoord’s clear want for control here, because the two members do well at times when they are performing for the camera. In fact, everyone does a rather good job in terms of acting (Patel, Hugh Jackman, Sigourney Weaver and Sharlto Copley as Chappie himself). The story was muddled to begin with, never mind the “creative inputs” Die Antwoord had in store. The pacing is far too rushed, and we don’t get a chance to see the world Blompkamp has made. In District 9, we get a good look at the ghetto life before any of the obstacles start to take place. Here, we are instantly given the purpose of the movie without any chance to be given time to fully believe it. This makes everyone’s goal seem convoluted, whether it be Die Antwoord’s want to turn the robots off, Patel’s search for artificial intelligence and Jackman’s want for control and funding. 

When Chappie is made and starts to learn, we have to accept that he is a “smart” robot who will instantly pick up on things. It’s the only way we’d sanely continue watching. He picks up on slang terms that people even now struggle to understand (there are generational gaps for a reason), and that isn’t a reflection on how unintelligent people are now. There are also problems with what Chappie understands and what he doesn’t understand. He is taught about killing and violence but dishonesty is something he can’t cling onto. Even so, he quickly learns that his life is important, yet this has no effect on how he treats the lives of others. Yes, he is in danger, but you’d think a quick realization that life is not permanent would have more of an impact on how one sees the mortality of others. 

When it comes to the films climax, Jackman’s intentions are disgustingly flawed. He is angry at Patel’s character for making robots that continue to cut into his funding, and his want to destroy the robots is understandable. Why he is hellbent on going trigger happy and spraying bullets at people, no matter who they are, makes no sense, especially since he is aware of the repercussions that any action can have on his job. He quickly becomes a villain with a purpose to just being an absolute jerk. There is a quick fix of an ending that brings in a very interesting concept that should have been detailed in full but instead feels like a way to wrap things up with Chappie. There are so many incredible possibilities that could have been touched upon with such an ending throughout the entire film, and yet it is plopped at the end of the movie like butter on top of a rotten baked potato.

Not all of Chappie is bad, though. The special effects are well done, as per usual in any Blomkamp movie. Chappie’s design is pretty well thought out, and his mechanics are highly believable. The score is actually pretty stunning as well, and it works as the sole thing that keeps you invested in phoned in scenes some of the time. Even a bit of the story, when it works, is effective. If only we had more moments in the movie like the times we see the torment Chappie goes through and see why he became so rebellious.

Take a movie like Rise of the Planet of the Apes. We get a good look at Caesar slowly realizing that the world can be full of hate. We see this ape gradually take over and try to gain power over the humans that had abused him. This was an ape in a world where apes were in no control whatsoever. How could it be more believable and understanding in this movie, where as in Chappie, the world already has robots acting as police officers? We have no chance to dive into this world apart from the ghetto. Chappie runs too quickly and focuses on things that do not matter for most of the time. It is a pretty clever idea that gets shot down by its own doing as fast as the unveiling of any event within this movie, aside from the only moment that took a moment to breath (and it did so for too long: the climax. 

Neill Blomkamp had such a career ahead of him after he won the world over with his excellent science fiction news piece District 9. He polarized the world with Elysium, which was still a very noteworthy effort. With Chappie, he makes his first dud, but it is scary because it looked like parts of this movie were not in his complete control. We had a director with a vision, and we now have one with just ideas. We need that man with a vision back for when he makes the eventual return to the Alien franchise, because we’ve seen what a loss of control in that series has looked like before. We also know what Blomkamp is capable of, and it’s just what the robot Chappie himself is capable of: Far more than almost everything we saw in Chappie.

About author

Former Film Editor & Music Writer at Live in Limbo. Co-host of the Capsule Podcast. A Greek/South African film enthusiast. He has recently earned a BFA honours degree in Cinema Studies at York University. He is also heavily into music, as he can play a number of instruments and was even in a few bands. He writes about both films and music constantly. You should follow him on Twitter @Andreasbabs.