Sometimes, I really hate it when I’m right. When the early trailers for Neill Blomkamp’s Chappie was released, I voiced some trepidation. As much as I loved District 9, Blomkamp’s third pic was showing signs of the same type of problems that plagued his second feature, Elysium. But Blomkamp is a smart, talented guy. He wouldn’t repeat the same mistakes over again, right? Sure, there was the inclusion of Die Antwoord to work around, but the rest of it would be solid, right?
Judging from the first few reviews that hit the net yesterday, that answer is a resounding negative. Or as Blomkamp’s most famous hero, Wikus Van der Merwe would put it: “Ag [email protected] nee!”
The Wrap’s James Rocchi, says that with Chappie reworking the same social issues of his previous films that Blomkamp is “stuck in a rut”.
“While it’s certainly nice to see a genre filmmaker engage with social concerns, it’s also worth asking if Blomkamp has literally anything else on his mind to share with the audience.”
“It’s easy to understand Blomkamp’s concerns in his three films; growing up under Apartheid would be enough to make any person interested in how systems made by human beings come to define other humans (and other beings) as less than human. The question is if Blomkamp has any other stories to tell than sci-fi have-nots vs. sci-fi haves.”
Many people questioned the casting of Ninja and Yo-Landi Vi$$er of shock rock-rap group Die Antwoord, seeing as how they zero acting experience. They certainly have an eye-catching aesthetic which may be what attracted Blomkamp, but according to Rocchi the casting just doesn’t pay off.
“Blomkamp’s decision to cast musicians Ninja and Vi$$er in their roles is confounding. The two are visually striking, to be sure: Vi$$er has a haircut that suggests she doesn’t own a mirror, while Ninja has tattoos with the kind of profane profusion and placement that suggests no capability for long-term thinking. But dramatically, they’re both inert, giving dead line readings or unmodulated shouting — and worse, it’s hard to not be reminded that Vi$$er and Ninja are not street criminals but rather members of the band Die Antwoord when they keep on wearing clothing with the name of their band on it, not once but multiple times. It’s a failure in basic filmmaking and artistic judgment on the order of Clint Eastwood’s rubber “American Sniper” prop baby.”
THR’s Todd McCarthy felt a bit amicable toward Vi$$er, but that’s about as far as his goodwill extends when it comes to the characters.
“With the partial exception of Visser, whose punky veneer nicely melts into motherly concern and warmth, the actors are straitjacketed with unlikable characters notable for their ill-advised judgment. No one’s any fun here, even in their villainy.”
And unfortunately the problems don’t just stop with the characters. McCarthy was particularly irked by how everybody in the movie is a hacker that can get into any computer system in seconds (admittedly, a major pet peeve of mine), but added that “this is but a minor irritant in a film well endowed with major ones, notably: unappealing one-note characters, retread concepts, implausible motivations and a ludicrous survival rate given the firepower expended upon the central figures.”
The title character of Chappie, mo-capped and voiced by Sharlto Copley and admittedly brought to life in impressive fashion by Blomkamp’s now usual mastery of VFX, doesn’t escape McCarthy’s scorn either.
“…for the audience, Chappie is a charmless and irritating bugger. The way he’s designed, with the barest semblance of a face, there’s no entry point to invite human feelings for him, and his often frantic speech patterns are off-putting.”
This is a sentiment that is echoed by Variety’s Justin Chang, as he also didn’t “this South African spin on Short Circuit” endearing at all.
“…it’s hard to glean much profundity or poignancy in the battle for Chappie’s soul, given how little of it he evinces onscreen; as written and performed, he comes off as such a tiresome, hyper-aggressive chatterbox that you keep hoping someone will flip his off switch.
Granted, not every artificial intelligence needs to be as compelling as HAL 9000 or as captivating as WALL-E. But those two creations were nothing if not a demonstration of how expressive silence can be, while showing the level of artistry required to imbue a hunk of metal with genuinely lifelike attributes.”
Both THR and Variety comment on the film’s script, which Blomkamp co-wrote with his wife and District 9 collaborator Teri Tatchell, as being filled with huge logic gaps and plot holes though.
“As the action mounts toward the end, any sense of plausible logistics and physical realities are tossed aside, as characters just sort of magically get from point A to B and end up right where they need to be to force an encounter or showdown.”
“Intelligence, artificial or otherwise, is one of the major casualties of “Chappie,” a robot-themed action movie that winds up feeling as clunky and confused as the childlike droid with which it shares its name.”
The Playlist’s Travis Clark was a bit more forgiving of the film, rating it as a C-Grade and saying that “Chappie” at least provides several reminders of the director’s skill — it’s an entertaining and action-packed endeavor with slick visuals, a thought-provoking theme and a few effective comedic touches” and that the film’s “climactic showdown involves some rather exhilarating effects work”. However, he cannot look past the film’s big faults either.
“Sadly, although “Chappie” offers countless good ideas, they’re regularly overshadowed by a laughably simplistic script. While the ragged neo-futurist version of South Africa found in Blomkamp’s earlier projects remains intact, the movie lacks the same depth.”
“Ultimately, though, “Chappie” suffers from an identity crisis: Part sci-fi drama, part CGI-fueled action-thriller — with some awkward shadings of black comedy — the film offers a lot of intriguing characteristics that never fully gel. Blomkamp’s first feature was so strong that it left no doubt he could make another great one — but “Chappie” sadly falls short of satisfying those expectations.”
But it’s not all bad news for Chappie though, as Clark’s colleague at The Playlist, Drew Taylor, was a lot more favourable of the film with a B-Grade, especially highlighting “the charming Copley performance, the ingenious visuals, the absolutely incredible all-electronic Hans Zimmer score (seriously, this is one of his best ever), and the propulsive narrative thrust (Blomkamp is rarely singled out for how swiftly he moves things along, plot holes be damned)”. He was also a major fan of both Chappie’s design as well as how Blomkamp has created this world.
“Chappie, too, is an ingenious design, especially when you consider that the same design for the hardened police robots also had to double for the more lovable infant robot character. Chappie looks like a robot; there’s nothing superfluous or overtly stylized. He’s got ears, which go a long way in expressing emotion and could conceivably be antennae (or something), and when Die Antwoord remake Chappie as a gangster (complete with graffiti tags and dangling gold chains), it only enhances the character (and truth be told, Copley does a great job). Blomkamp is a director whose characters go through an emotional and design arcs as the film progresses (think about Damon’s robotic exo-skeleton upgrade in “Elysium” or Copley slowly transforming into one of the alien invaders in “District 9″) and Chappie is no exception.”
“Blomkamp is, undeniably, something of a visionary. His imaginary worlds are always fully formed and hyper-detailed, even if the narratives contained within them don’t measure up. They’re made even more powerful by how closely they resemble our own experience. He’s even more of an essential asset to genre filmmaking because he’s so puckishly confrontational, willing to address current issues in an earnest, head-on way. (Remember those leaked Sony emails urging the marketing to stay away from the hot button sociopolitical implications of “Elysium?”) “Chappie” is no different.”
At the time of writing this, no other major publications have released reviews yet, but Chappie was sitting on 45% on Rotten Tomatoes and 38/100 on MetaCritic. Ouch. The movie opens locally on March 13, 2015.
UPDATE: More reviews have been released and they’re almost all bad across the board, dropping the movie to 33% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Last Updated: March 6, 2015