Chappie Die Antwoord

Chappie Review: The Hateful Little Movie that Couldn't

Friday, March 13, 2015 Rob Samuelson


Director: Neill Blomkamp
Writers: Neill Blomkamp, Terri Tatchell
Starring: Sharlto Copley, Dev Patel, Ninja, Yo-Landi Visser, Hugh Jackman
Rating: Two stars out of Five (all for technical merit)

Neill Blomkamp is arguably the master of integrating CGI into films. There is a texture, a liveliness to these computer-generated beings that feels totally visually authentic. Everything about the way the titular robot looks and feels within Chappie feels like a technological step forward for the medium. It's amazing what Blomkamp is able to produce from what is a motion-capture performance by a real person, Sharlto Copley.

Unfortunately, the rest of Chappie is a nihilistic disaster.

It is a sadistic movie in which humans are ugly, vile, remorseless, obnoxious – woo boy, are they ever obnoxious – and, at their very best, naïve to the point of stupidity. Blomkamp imbues every shot with a disdain for people, from their rotting structures to their disregard for each other to their absolutely horrendous taste in fashion. Almost every character, save the naïve and stupid scientist played by Dev Patel, looks like they have had pranks played on them. This is probably due, at least in part, to the casting of Ninja and Yo-Landi Visser, the musical duo known as Die Antwoord. Their entire public personae are built around being terrible for the effect of showcasing the venality of humanity – they dress like Dayglow trash, pretend to be gangsters, and make music that, fingers crossed, is a cruel joke and not a sign of genuine self expression. These are not actors. Performance artists, maybe, but they can't fake their way through scenes that require them to show real emotion and caring for their robot “baby,” instead choosing to toss out cringe-worthy “gangsta”-isms and trying to make the sentient-but-uneducated robot learn to become a criminal. The fact that Blomkamp lets them use their real names, plaster the walls of their home/hideout with their real-life posters and slogans, and score almost the entire film feels like propaganda for product placement. For an intrinsically cloying product.

But annoyances do not necessarily make a movie bad. Where Blomkamp and Chappie really go off the rails is in their greater philosophy. This is a profoundly cynical movie, one that goes so far as to say humanity needs to transform into something that is literally not human in order for the problems of the world to go away. It's not simply distrustful of the flaws in people – it is flat out hostile to us. Our mere existence is the problem and, like the machines at the center of the film, it thinks we need to be eliminated.

Speaking of which, Hugh Jackman's villain character, a guy skeptical about allowing robots to gain sentience, is treated like the most evil person in the world. He's the only wise person in the movie. His arguments that maybe allowing these machines, which were originally programmed as police crowd control weapons, to think for themselves are treated like some kind of anti-civil rights screed. Patel's supposedly brilliant robotics scientist character brushes off all the obvious warning signs and goes ahead with his plan to make his killing machines smart anyway. The standoffs between him and Jackman end up with Patel basically saying, “Aw, man, you never let me have any fun,” as if the guy arguing that these mechanical tools under human control should stay mechanical tools under human control is the worst kind of overbearing parent.

It's that same freewheeling abandonment of cooler heads that makes Chappie such a chore to watch. It's all teenage fury and unearned disillusionment that only wants to end it all because of the false assumption that the next thing will be better than the present thing. It's garbage thinking, presented in a garbage package, equaling a garbage movie.

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