A second feature from Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell–the South African couple who received an Oscar nomination in 2010 in the Best Adapted Screenplay category for their come-out-of left-field special effects extravaganza District 9–is now playing in worldwide IMAX theatres.
Here are two reviews–from Jan and from Brigid–across the generations.
Review of Chappie by Managing Editor Jan Lisa Huttner
Well knock me over with a feather! Since I hated District 9–the first Blomkamp/Tatchell collaboration–I went into Chappie with very low expectations. “More of the same,” I predicted. “Another special effects extravaganza with no people in it.” But I followed my rule (“You don’t know until you go.”), and I’m glad I did. Yes, of course, there are abundant special effects in Chappie, but this time there is also a lot of heart too.
A geek named “Deon” (Dev Patel) works for Tetravaal (a South African munitions manufacturer). By day, Deon builds droids for the Johannesburg police department; by night, he continues experimenting at home to see how far he can push “artificial intelligence.” The result is “Chappie,” a droid who not only follows orders but seems to have the ability to learn, and may even be capable of consciousness.
Of course, Deon’s boss “Michelle Bradley” (Sigourney Weaver) has her eye on the bottom line, so she only wants dumb droids and more dumb droids. This attitude not only frustrates Deon (a geek with benign intentions), but it also enrages “Vincent Moore” (Hugh Jackman), a power-hungry geek with far more malevolent intentions.
All of this ends, of course, in the inevitable fight to the death between “Chappie” and a mechanized monster Vincent calls “The Moose”–with most of Johannesburg’s criminal class and all of the dumb droids on the police force caught up in the mayhem.
The surprise comes with the appearance of a couple of crooks named Ninja and Yolandi, played by two musicians from the South African “rap-rave” group Die Antwoord named… Ninja and Yolandi. (Well, OK. “Yolandi” really is Yolandi Visser, but “Ninja” was once known by his birth name Watkin Tudor Jones.)
I knew nothing about Ninja, Yolandi, or Die Antwoord when I entered the theatre, and I still can’t tell you what “rap-rave” is. But I know charisma when I see it, and Ninja and Yolandi not only have more than their share, they are both terrific. They are perfect in their roles as Chappie’s Mommy and Daddy, and their music also anchors the soundtrack.
I’ll let you figure out the whys and wherefores of the plot for yourself. Suffice it to say that Chappie falls into their hands, and all three are the better for it. By the end Ninja, Yolandi, and Chappie have become a genuine family, while Deon has morphed into a New Age “Geppetto” (the kindly woodcarver who made Pinocchio).
Actor Sharlto Copley hasn’t impressed me much in human form (he was just OK in District 9, and he was definitely a weak link as “King Stefan” in Maleficent), but suit him up in Sci-Fi costume and he’s almost as good as Andy Serkis. The miracle of motion capture has enabled both actors to use their eyes and their voices to maximum effect. Like Serkis as “Caesar” in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Copley as “Chappie” had me at hello.
A week ago, I would not have believed it, but now I say: “I can’t wait to see what Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell will dream up next. Always remember, Jan: You don’t know until you go! (JLH: 4/5)
Review of Chappie by Associate Editor Brigid K. Presecky
In an age where explosions, robots, and gunfire dominate the multiplex, Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell’s Chappie is nothing new. Although it has a theme reminiscent of Frankenstein and two lovable leads, the sci-fi action film fails to hold your attention.
The story centers on Tetravaal, a weapon-manufacturing company leading the world in designing state-of-the-art robots – aka “Scouts” – who are commissioned by the Johannesburg Police Department to regulate crime. We see their functionality in the film’s opening, a long action sequence depicting the scouts invading a drug deal.
We meet brainiac employee “Deon” (Dev Patel) the engineer behind the scout technology. Sleepless nights and cans of Red Bull help young Deon to create “Chappie,” a robot implanted with highly-advanced technology who is able to think and act like a human. As expected, the film shows Chappie’s growth from an innocent, childlike being into a fully-developed “human” with thoughts and feelings – the only thing that had previously separated animals and robots from human beings. Similar to last year’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Chappie raises ethical questions about whether applying human qualities to unthinking, unfeeling things – apes, robots, Chappies, whatever it may be – will, in fact, lead to humanity’s destruction.
Its characters are, for the most part, dynamic and unique in their own way. Deon is ambitious, but doesn’t fulfill many of the stereotypical qualities that often mark the workaholic archetype in films. This is thanks, mostly, to Patel’s human portrayal of a man who has more power than he realizes. He represents those who see only the benefits of technology’s advances. The other lead character, “Vincent” (Hugh Jackman) is a former soldier and weapons designer whose project funds have been drained by Deon’s scout manufacturing. He is a clear generalization of the skeptics who believe our world has become too bogged down in technology, warning of its dangers and openly expressing his frustration – and suspicion – of the scouts. Meanwhile, “Michelle Bradley” (Sigourney Weaver) the South-African-based corporation’s no-nonsense CEO, has dollar signs where her eyes should be, blinding her to the repercussions of creating such powerful artificial intelligence.
Chappie aims to display both sides of the debate – to reach out to all of the Deons and Vincents in theater seats who are champions or skeptics about technology and its advances. The robot’s initial humanity and growth is interesting to watch, especially with respect to his “maker.” It proves ultimately redundant, however, and the underground drug den in which Deon is forced to “raise” his creation is bizarre and stomach-churning.
An expert is quoted early in the film about Chappie’s human-like qualities, saying “I never thought this could happen in my lifetime.” The skeptical viewer can’t help but wonder the same thing, until we remember the flying drones in the air and buzzing smart phones in our pockets. Unfortunately, Blomkamp and Tatchell’s script lacks any differences or specialness from the all-too-familiar “when it goes too far” cliché. (BKP: 2.5/5)
Review © Brigid K. Presecky (3/6/15)
Top Photo: Sharlto Copley as “Chappie.”
Middle Photo (1): Ninja and Yolandi in their lair with Dev Patel as “Deon.”
Bottom Photo: Sigourney Weaver as Tetra Vaal’s CEO “Michelle Bradley” with Hugh Jackman as “Vincent Moore.”
Q: Does Chappie pass the Bechdel Test?
The only women on screen are Yolandi and Michelle Bradley, and they never meet let alone have anything approaching a conversation.