16 February 2016 | brando647
Weak Writing; Chappie is the Only Real Fun in CHAPPIE
I've been following the career of director Neill Blomkamp since he blew me away in 2009 with his debut DISTRICT 9 and, I've got to say, there's been a slow decline. I absolutely loved DISTRICT 9 and, while it was nowhere near the same level, I even enjoyed ELYSIUM. But, man, I don't know what to think of CHAPPIE. I do find that I sort of like it, in spite of some pretty annoying flaws. Those flaws would be sloppier writing and the idiot characters. Everything else lives up to what I expect from a Blomkamp movie, and this movie isn't enough for me to write the man off. I'm just a little disappointed. I guess I was hoping the dip into mediocrity that was ELYSIUM was a fluke and CHAPPIE would be a return to form. Once again set in Blomkamp's usual stomping ground of South Africa, CHAPPIE is set in the brutal world of gangsters in Johannesburg. In an effort to combat crime, the government has utilized a robotic police force and it seems to be working out. As good as this might be for Johannesburg, it's bad news for a trio of small-time criminals who need to pull off a pretty decent heist if they want to pay off their debts to a murderous local kingpin. By a stroke of luck, the three cross paths with Deon Wilson (Dev Patel), creator of the police robots, and he just so happens to have a busted robot in the trunk of his van that he'd planned on using to test his new artificial intelligence program. Instead, the gangsters see their chance to put the newly sentient 'bot to good use in solving their own problems.
My problems with CHAPPIE really go hand-in-hand. The overall story is pretty cool: the naïve "newborn" robot essentially being raised by these criminals and the conflict between his gangster upbringing and the more positive messages bestowed on him by his maker, Deon. The problems in the writing that bother me endlessly are with the characters, their actions, and the seemingly lack of consequences to all of the ignorant decisions being made. This isn't limited to the street thugs. I expect them to make stupid decisions (and they do); this goes for everyone. Deon, for example, steals a broken police robot from work that was scheduled for recycling because it was beyond repair. Sure, this sets the whole plot in motion but why is someone so intelligent acting so stupid? We see Deon's home. He's got loads of machines and he's even got a tiny butler robot that cleans up his messes. Why not implant the program in one of them and test it out? Was it really the best decision to steal what is most assuredly a multi-million dollar product from your company and, remember, the local government (it was a police 'bot, after all)? Then he gets hijacked by our trio of main criminals
Ninja, Yo- Landi, and Amerika
and they demand to keep the newly sentient robot for themselves. Maybe it's because I didn't grow up in a high crime area
maybe Deon's just desensitized to threats of violence
but when an obviously unstable street thug starts waving a gun around and demands I get lost and leave the robot, I get lost. Cut your losses, man. Call the cops and let them deal with it. Seeing as how he's such an asset to his company, he might not even lose his job for "borrowing" the busted robot. Instead, Deon insists on returning to the criminal's hideout again and again and again so he can continue teaching Chappie, risking a bullet to the brain every time and rarely acknowledging the constant threats of death.
So, Deon's an idiot. How do Chappie's other parents fare? Yo-Landi is Chappie's surrogate mother and the most sympathetic of the cast. From the moment Chappie goes online, Yo-Landi's maternal instincts kick in and she adopts him as her own child; she's even the one to name him. Amerika (Jose Pablo Cantillo) is sort of the cool uncle. He helps teach Chappie swagger and how to carry himself like a gangster. He actually seems to care about Chappie but he never oversteps his bounds, knowing this is Ninja's operation and therefore Ninja's robot. And Ninja
well, Ninja's made almost impossible to like (despite being a main character in the film) because of how much we sympathize with Chappie. A quick bit about Chappie: I love the character. Sharlto Copley does a phenomenal job bringing the robot to life and making the audience love him. For the majority of the film, Chappie is mentally a "child". His behavior, his speech, his naivety
Chappie is a child and it's near impossible not to care about him. This is why it's so easy for me to hate the character of Ninja. I suppose Ninja would be comparable to Chappie's stepfather (I see Deon as more the father role though Chappie does refer to Ninja as his father) and he's an abusive S.O.B. Yes, Chappie is a robot but it's enough that I can't stand Ninja, despite his attempted redemption at the end.
I don't hate CHAPPIE. I'm not mad. I'm just
disappointed. I expected better. Still, Chappie himself was done incredibly well (both VFX and performance) and Yo-Landi was surprisingly decent. It's Blomkamp's biggest misstep so far but it's entertaining enough. Wait for it to drop on cable for this one; no rush.