I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Chappie

tn_chappieCHAPPIE is a slight but sweet sci-fi story from South Africa’s Neill Blomkamp. It’s like a meaner SHORT CIRCUIT or an unexpectedly good Asylum knockoff of the remake of ROBOCOP. The Johannesburg police are very happy with their new police robot “Scouts,” invented by cubicle-bound corporate employee Deon Wilson (Dev Patel from SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE), and have flatly, perhaps rudely rejected The Moose, a human-operated ED-209 lookalike pushed by jealous ex-soldier Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman). But Deon isn’t really invested in that feud – he’s invented an A.I. program which the boss (Sigourney Weaver) won’t even let him continue with, and that’s all he really cares about right now.

still_chappieMeanwhile the weirdo South African electronical rap group Die Antwoord are involved in a drug deal gone bad and busted up by Scouts. A scary gangster named Hippo (Brandon Auret, who played mercenaries in both of Blomkamp’s other movies) who has a crazy hairdo that would make any David Ayer character teary eyed with envy, says they owe him a ridiculous amount of money, so they decide they have no choice but to quickly pull off the heist of a lifetime so he doesn’t kill them. That leads to the hair-brained idea of kidnapping Deon to get “the remote” that they assume he has for clicking the power off on the city’s law enforcement. For some reason he doesn’t really have one, go figure. So as a compromise he installs his A.I. program in a damaged police robot for them to teach how to be “the illest gangster” and use robot powers such as jump high and metal punch to help them pull off their robbery.

Chappie (who is voiced and performance-captured by Blomkamp’s favorite actor, Sharlto Copley [THE A-TEAM]) starts out like a baby, though he learns and grows faster than a human. At first he’s scared and doesn’t understand anything, and they have to be gentle with him. He picks up on words and watches He-Man, etc. Unlike E.T. he doesn’t get drunk or wear a dress.

mp_chappieIf you’re not familiar with Die Antwoord, they’re a trip. They are Ninja, a lanky, muscle-shirt wearing dude with a mullet, and Yo-Landi Visser, a tiny, bleach blond girl with a squeaky voice who David Fincher wanted to play THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. She didn’t want to act at that time, but he borrowed some of her fashion for Rooney Mara. She’s got a great sort of threatening version of camp and tackiness, part scary and part adorable. She has a very unique fashion, and in this movie the accessories include colorful knee and elbow pads and a pink uzi. During the climax she wears her own home made Chappie t-shirt.

I think the coolest way to look at this movie is as a musician vehicle like TOUGHER THAN LEATHER. It’s similar in that Die Antwoord play themselves, even wear t-shirts of themselves and listen to their own music, but they’re also portrayed as criminals and they get in gunfights and stuff. (And remember, Blomkamp originally wanted to do ELYSIUM as a low budget movie starring Eminem. Maybe he’s destined to make sci-fi rapper vehicles.)

They live in an abandoned building decorated with great graffiti like you’d see in their videos or photo shoots, some of it reminiscent of Pee-wee’s Playhouse. But they consider it a nice home compared to “the real world” where some of the other lower class live.

There is a texture to this movie, the way the people look and dress, that I wasn’t sure if it was a Blomkamp thing or a South African thing or what. Blown out buildings covered in grafitti, dusty, garbage-strewn roads, people with lots of braids and tattoos and gold teeth, dressed somewhere between modern gangsta and post-apocalyptic nomad. Whatever it is, Die Antwoord fit right into it, and add some colorful highlights.

But it’s mainly a story about parenting. Yo-Landi names Chappie, teaches him to call her Mommy, is very sweet with him. Ninja (walking right into a stereotype) is like the abusive stepdad who lies to him and teaches him fucked up shit. He leaves Chappie with a bunch of dudes who beat him up for looking like a cop, and when he refuses to “do crimes” with guns Ninja convinces him that knives just put people to sleep if you touch them. So here, go ahead and stab this into human flesh, to help them go beddy-bye. He also teaches him to use throwing stars and nunchakas, which is the one and only good fatherly thing this piece of shit ever does. I wish my father had taught me that stuff, honestly. I’m really bad at throwing stars.

Ninja and Yo-Landi also have one non-Die-Antwoord member of their gang, Amerika, played by Jose Pablo Cantillo. He’s the same actor who played Snowflake, the right hand man to Chiwitel Eijiofor in REDBELT, and here he plays a pretty similar role, so I liked that. He’s very likable because he starts out a cynical tough guy like Ninja but then Chappie makes him laugh and grows on him so he ends up leaning more toward Yo-Landi’s motherly point of view.

The magic of Weta Workshop
The magic of Weta Workshop

Meanwhile Deon keeps coming back to see how his program is doing and try to be a positive influence. He gets Chappie to paint a picture and teaches him about following his dreams and not letting anyone else (I’m looking at you, Ninja. And pointing, because I’m pretty sure you’re not getting the hint. What I am trying to imply is that “anyone” specifically and only refers to you, Ninja, of Die Antwoord) define or limit him. Ninja tries to teach him that art is for sissies. Chappie makes a doll of Yo-Landi and hides it from Ninja like a shameful secret. Like a flower in the attic.

And as his program develops he goes through teenage rebellion. He tells Deon he hates him and steals laptops with Ninja. He also has painted on tattoos and gold chains. He’s a big ol’ robot dork. Deon does plant important ideas in him, but because Ninja doesn’t want Deon around and because of his job he can’t always be there. So it’s kind of saying you can be all inspirational and preach and shit but if a kid’s not in a good environment (and doesn’t have Michelle Pfeiffer or somebody as a teacher) it’s not always gonna stick.

Like Blomkamp’s other two movies (DISTRICT 9 and ELYSIUM) there are class issues cooked into this plot. There’s an obvious difference between the lives of the criminals and the people who work at the robot company. Chappie gets involved in “doing the crimes” because he doesn’t have other opportunities where he’s raised. On the other hand Yo-Landi and Deon are still able to teach him morality and believing in himself, and these things allow him to contribute to the world.

It doesn’t really focus on the issues of drones and artificial intelligence and stuff. Moore does argue (like Michael Keaton in the ROBOCOP remake) that having a human with a conscience controlling the machines makes them safer. I’d have to say that’s wishful thinking. To me the most powerful scene on this topic is the raid at the beginning, where the scouts get in a gunfight with gangsters. It struck me that there was no excuse for the police robots to be shooting. Humans could justify it as self defense, but this is just a piece of equipment protecting itself. You don’t shoot somebody to prevent property damage. Well, you shouldn’t.

But of course when Moore gets to pilot his Moose into the slums to try to kill Chappie and Die Antwoord he is not exercising caution or responsible law enforcement. Having a human behind it probly makes things worse in that case. Also, Chappie (with his groundbreaking artificial intelligence) seems to have more of a conscience than Moore, yet it’s his human-like emotions that make him dangerous when he confronts him in the office to avenge his parents. I like this scene because it’s in this mundane, corporate environment and he’s beating the hell out of the bad guy and you just feel like he’s going too far. It has echoes of a workplace shooting tragedy.

But overall the feel of the movie is pretty upbeat. I like the shaggy quality of this one. Though the effects on the robots are really well done, it mostly feels like a loose, low budget, independent kind of movie. Weaver is only in a few scenes, and Jackman’s character is smaller than he’d have been in most movies. Some of his scenes are, like, standing around the corner of the warehouse with binoculars seeing what the good guys are doing. And he has a mullet, wears a dorky polo shirt tucked in and uses his real accent. There’s a part that really made me laugh, because it’s so unfitting of a big movie hero like Professor Logan Wolverine: Deon is at his computer going through the logs and discovers that it was Moore that did something really bad. So he turns around and looks across the cubicles at him. Moore sees him looking, knows he’s been found out, and ducks down lower in his seat, as if avoiding eye contact will protect him.

Of course, some of that stuff that I found endearing others will list as negatives. I’ve actually seen a couple people saying this is the worst movie of the year, which I can’t fathom at all. But the appeal is not in the usual sci-fi or especially sci-fi action type of material. What I like is mainly the sweetness of weird-ass Yo-Landi treating a robot as her son. She’s very protective of him, and she hugs him. It’s safe to say I haven’t seen a movie like that before.

It’s less ambitious than the other Blomkamp movies, less political. But in a way that makes it more successful. It’s not trying to be a grand statement, it’s just a weird little romp, and I can enjoy one of those without feeling like it should’ve solved the health care crisis or something. Although that would’ve been a good bonus.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Thursday, June 25th, 2015 at 11:09 am and is filed under Reviews, Science Fiction and Space Shit. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

29 Responses to “Chappie”

  1. I saw this one when it came out, and really liked it. I remember my friend was really harping on the stupid impossibility of replicating human consciousness using a stack of Playstation 4s (like, at least make them Playstation 20s, or something), but I found it really easy not to care about that.

  2. I enjoyed this movie and while I am not surprised when people say they don’t like, I get a little confused when people really hate on it. Some people just don’t watch enough movies if they think this one is that terrible.

    Personally I would have liked more exploration of the religious angle in Chappie, because they made Hugh Jackman’s character a cross-wearing Christian and the relationship between Deon and Chappie definitely has a God-Man, Creator-The Created thing going for it, especially when Chappie asks Deon why he made him just to die, but ultimately it feels like Blomkamp knew he wanted to say SOMETHING regarding this stuff, but didn’t know exactly what he wanted to say.

    Anyway, another great review, thanks Vern!

  3. Woah, this is, I believe, the only positive review I’ve ever heard of for this one. I’m always kinda rooting for Blomkamp, but even I was scared off when I read the reviews. Could it be that it’s actually misunderstood?

  4. I agree, I found some of the weirdness endearing. I wouldn’t say it’s misunderstood. It’s a thematic and narrative mess but there are too many things you’d never see in a Hollywood movie to discount it. Particularly the consciousness downloads, this is supposed to be a happy ending? So I liked it as pure ambition with no consequences for failure, more than say the straightforward message of Elysium.

  5. Great review, i saw it in the cinema, my enthusiasm having been slightly tempered by the various negative reviews. The same happened with Elysium, lots of negative talk before i saw it, but again i loved it. I think people just can’t accept that not every one of his films are going to be District 9, they build it up in their heads and see it as a dud when it doesn’t quite meet what they think it could be. From everything i’d heard, i expected Ninja and Yolandi to ruin the film, but i liked both of them, especially her. I liked her relationship with Chappie, and i thought Ninja was pretty good even if he was playing a bit of a cad. Maybe having no expectations helped, but i really enjoyed it both times i watched it.

  6. Loved this one, despite and / or because of the frequent odd bits, or the unintentionally (?) funny Hugh Jackman bits –

    SPOILERS SPOILERS “”What in the name of the LORD?!?!?” might be the funniest lord-related line since “I kick arse for the lord!” in Braindead / Dead Alive; when he crossed himself cos he was so appalled at what he was seeing I lost it END SPOILERS

    Not ashamed to say I was filling up when Yolandi read Chappie the storybook.

    Also : Is there any other director working at the moment who basically shoots his films at rubbish dumps, in broad daylight, and makes them look as beautiful (George Miller excepted I guess).

  7. I agree with Fred that the film is a thematic and narrative mess, but enjoyable. Sharlto Copley’s performance as Chappie and the effect used to present it are impressive.

  8. Die Antwoord are completely fake, but fake in the best way: all pop music culture is is just a bunch of performance art poses, and like Lady Gaga (who they skewer in their video Vern linked to above, ironically), they play the game like geniuses. Don’t get me wrong, I love them. But you can see how they just evolved from previous art school nonsense to maximum gangsta for the sheer absurd pleasure of it all.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z8szZ_WBdqE

  9. I realm enjoyed Chappie as a Die Antwoord Robot Movie and thought it’s the 2nd best AI movie of the year. Better than Age of Ultron, not as good as Ex Machina.

    “I saw this one when it came out, and really liked it. I remember my friend was really harping on the stupid impossibility of replicating human consciousness using a stack of Playstation 4s (like, at least make them Playstation 20s, or something), but I found it really easy not to care about that.”

    They’ve made supercomputers by linking together PS3s in real life, so that was based on a grain of truth.

  10. Plus Hugh Jackman is the most accurate Australian asshole since Wake in Fright.

  11. I think nerds didn’t like it because it wasn’t really for them, but the artsy hipster Die Antwoord fan crowd. Though it made me like Die Antwoord more than I did before seeing it.

  12. I’ve been seeing the name Die Antwoord on Ye Interwebz for a while now but never actually heard any of their music. Based on the few snippets of that clip I was able to get through, I feel like I might need to remind them that my lawn is a privilege, not a right. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m not a big fan of music that requires a concept. I’d rather it just be, you know, listenable just as, like, a song.

    The movie sounds better than I’d heard, though. These guys might not connect with me as musicians but I’m willing to give them a chance as berserkers. Berserking might just be their true calling.

  13. I haven’t seen this yet, but I couldn’t help but notice how the first trailer was very much the “you will believe a robot can love” thing that it sounds like this turned into…

    …and yet all the TV spots prior to release was just a bunch of explosions and gunfire and shots of Chappie and his friends walking to the camera with their guns raised like “HERE COMES CHAPPIE TO PUT A MOTHERFUCKIN’ DENT IN YOUR SHIT!” Something tells me that first line of advertising didn’t test very well!

  14. BR – I didn’t think it needed to be said that their personas are characters. Do people really not know that? I think of them kind of like RiFF RaFF, an American equivalent of a ridiculous, cartoonishly obnoxious rapper who is obviously somewhat tongue in cheek, and enjoying it.

  15. @Brimstone: Yeah, I mean. You can definitely tie a bunch of PS4s together to make a computer, just probably not one that even remotely approximates the human brain.

  16. Die Antwoord blew up to overnight mass market success not just because everyone loves camp.

    They are taken at face value absolutely seriously by many. Why do people love “Snatch” or “Fight Club”? Yeah on one level they laugh, on another level they appreciate the intellectual insights. But mostly, on the gut level they identify themselves. It doesn’t matter if large swaths of the world now think Johanneseburg/ South Africa is a dystopian landscape of overwrought gangsta rap cliches.

    What matters is *why* people like them. And it’s not because they are in on the joke, or even care if it is a joke. It’s not goofy, it’s not pantomime. It’s beyond the question of whether they are real or not.

    Enough see something in Die Antwoort that grabs them and they *believe*.

    That’s the highest greatest definition of successful art.

    http://www.stereogum.com/1771583/die_antwoord_is_fake_and_so_wh/vg-loc/videogum/

  17. The thing about calling Die Antwood fake is that, you were never supposed to think they were real? Like do you call Hugh Jackman fake cause he’s acting different to how he really is? No cause he’s an actor. Their performance art. Seriously check out the other projects the two have been in like Max Normal with there intentional boring 70’s office worker asthetic and shit.

  18. A better comparison then Hugh Jackman might be KISS. No one expects that Gene Simons was wearing mad max armour and face paint at home.

  19. My problem with Die Antwoord is simply that I’m a guy who is unable of enjoying anything ironically and there are other bands who go for the “Best worst song ever”, but actually make music that you can listen to. (Like Electric Six or Deichkind.)

  20. “Woah, this is, I believe, the only positive review I’ve ever heard of for this one. I’m always kinda rooting for Blomkamp, but even I was scared off when I read the reviews. Could it be that it’s actually misunderstood?”

    This is what I’m thinking, I enjoyed ELYSIUM despite it’s flaws and have been rooting for Blomkamp since I saw his short films on youtube since 2006 I think, but even I skipped this one after seeing it get so much bad press, I’m happy to hear that it may not as bad it’s been made out to be.

    Also, holy crap, I just learned that Neill Blomkamp is only a decade older than me to the day (both of our birthdays are September 17th), I guess that explains why I find his visual style so fresh and cool, I’m actually a bit disappointed he’s doing ALIENS because I’d rather see him continue to do new things than get sucked up into the franchise machine.

  21. “Like an unexpectedly good Asylum knockoff of the remake of Robocop” — This needs to go on the back of the blu ray. I too was frightened away from this thing because of the terrible reviews. I keep on rooting for Blomkamp, though. It seems like he has some unrealized potential.

  22. “Hate” is a strong word, but I really didn’t like it. “Irritating” would perhaps best surmise it for me, and frankly I would consider it the weakest 2015 film I’ve seem (but I haven’t seen any truly atrocious films yet). And I’m actually quite fond of Die Antword for what it’s worth. I supposed my biggest issue was that I just didn’t like Chappie as a character, with his silly baby talk and the scenes where he’s an assault victim, an abandoned child and whatnot I really felt that this was a character they were trying to make me like, rather than a character with the simplistic charm of its antecedents (Johnny 5, Wall-E, C-3PO etc.). The checklist roll-call through all the standard topics you’re “supposed” to cover in an A.I. story also annoyed me, and I felt its constant switches from action movie to fairy tale more jarring than charming. I’m sure it was a labour of love, but it all felt very contrived. I do think Blomkamp has a lot of talent, and there are certain images in the movie which have stuck with me (particularly Ninja playing around with a stick in [Spoiler Block] while Die Antword’s signature tune starts up), and I enjoyed ELYSIYUM about as much as DISTRICT 9 (which is to say, just fine) so I’m still interested to see what he’ll do next.

  23. I liked CHAPPIE more than most people. But perhaps the best part of it is Hugh Jackmans ridiculous haircut and his Steve Irwin-clothing style. A villain in khaki shorts is kind of funny.

  24. this one really got hit hard by the RT meter, which is a shame, because we walked out of this one high on movies. couldn’t convince anyone to see it because Rotten Tomatoes says…., but now that its on video, most of those same folks seem to be enjoying it. had a lot more fun with this one than I did with elysium, anyway

  25. I haven’t made it all the way through yet, but not because I think there’s anything wrong with it. It is like watching a James Incandenza film from Infinite Jest. There is something so excrutiatingly pathetic to me about Chappie’s mannerism. The scene where he begs the thugs not to hurt him was completely unwatchable for me. I’m not sure if it’s some weird combination of an evocative Copley performance, the Uncanny Valley, and whatever else, but I dread having to watch stuff like the teenage rebellion phase.

    Strange that nobody else had to watch this movie through their fingers, but it triggered me pretty hard.

  26. The Original Paul

    June 27th, 2015 at 8:09 am

    My DREDD-loving TRANSFORMERS-loving TRANCE-liking SAVING PRIVATE RYAN-loathing friend (I think that gives you some idea of his tastes) said that this was the best movie he’d seen this year. I have yet to see it myself, but my impression was that most people at least liked it. Maybe this is another of those UK / US things?

  27. animalramirez1976

    June 27th, 2015 at 9:08 pm

    I loved this movie. The hate for it seriously bores and depresses me. It would like hating Inside Out or something. It’s like the hatred is a product of a diseased brain.

    This Hugh Jackman’s best role that’s not Wolverine. The mullet and shorts really get to the heart of what a weaseley dork this character is. Jackman may be a modern Peter Sellers: without a costume or gimmick, he’s a pretty boring guy. He needs goofy hair to tap into his acting superpowers.

    Yolandi rules.

    The movie also perfectly captures the way two assholes would talk to a kid to pressure him into doing bad things with them.

  28. “I didn’t think it needed to be said that their personas are characters. ”

    This makes me think of your review for Your Next, where you comment on how modern “self-aware” horror films are no different than classic slashers. People just want to feel like they’re smarter than the content creators of these older films, as if the directors and writers couldn’t possibly be self-aware. I find that when it comes to genre films or weird, over the top art like Die Antwoord, most people need to be let in on the joke, so to speak.

  29. Wow. I’m amazed at the praise this movie got on here. I just couldn’t get over how the characters were all stupid and terrible human beings to boot. Ninja spends the entire movie being a huge asshole with no redeeming qualities or moments. How are we supposed to root for people whose motives are basically “we have to commit an even bigger crime because we screwed up the last heist we did.” Sigourney Weaver was probably the most inept boss of a weapons development company ever. I burst out laughing when Hugh Jackman reveals to her that Dev Patel has created an AI and her reaction (“But I told him not to!”).

    Surprised no one has mentioned the hilariously bad moment when Jackman threatens Patel in the middle of the office at gunpoint but hey it was just a joke because the gun wasn’t loaded! Back to work everyone! I was pretty surprised at the large leaps in logic this movie asked the audience to make (lack of security at a weapons development facility, clearing The Moose control room to let someone use a brand new untested killing robot without supervision). Just took me out of the movie too much for me to enjoyment. I gotta say that my excitement for a Blomkamp directed Alien basically disappeared after seeing this mess.

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