Movie Review - 'Chappie' Errs But Is Still Human
Posted by Ryan Sanderson on Friday, March 6, 2015 at 12:00 AM By Ryan Sanderson / March 6, 2015 Comment
bomb mankind out of existence. Others settle for a petty murder or two. Some become productive members of society, but that stigma always lingers. You’re different. You’re like a child, looking at the world for the very first time. To your left stands Dev Patel, beaming down at you with that winning smile that charmed the world into ignoring a million plot holes in Slumdog Millionaire. He’s holding a paintbrush and a picture book. Softly he coos, “Hello Chappie. I’m your maker. Do you want to paint a picture?” To your right stands Ninja. That’s both the character’s name and the actor’s. He’s responsible for lyrics like, “Lyrical throw stars killing my foes like hos! Ska!” He’s got a pistol. “Chappie let’s shoot a gun! Shoot a gun Chappie!” And like a dog asked to choose owners, you’re stuck in the middle. Will you read the nice book about the black sheep, or will you be a “straight up gangster mother…ahem?” Life is hard. Dr. Ronald Chevalier. What inspires Patel’s programmer Deon to play God? A cat poster told him to of course. Why does the gang of ruffians (comprised of members of the band Die Antwoord, who provide much of the film’s music) kidnap Deon? Because somehow they intuited the exact remote control system that he designed to control his robotic police force. Why is an unhinged maniac like Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman) allowed to wave his pistol around at his cubicle? Who let this man build a giant, super powerful mech suit? Why is everybody making a huge deal about robotic police officers, but nobody seems to care that there is a helmet that can transfer human consciousness across space!? One of those things is more impressive (not to mention useful) on a fundamental level. And yet for all its flaws, Chappie does demand a response. The only unforgivable sin in science fiction is to be boring. That’s something this movie is not. Before he was a self-made directing wunderkind, Blomkamp worked in visual effects. His state of the art images, melded with Die Antwoord’s abrasive hip hop, at the very least make for a thrilling series of standalone music videos. Also there’s an element of authenticity here that’s too easy to discount. Compare this commercial Blomkamp directed in 2007 to Michael Bay’s convoluted Transformers films. The motion is so elegant, the surfaces so clean and authentic, every movement so simple and motivated; and all of this expressed in a pointless thirty second TV spot! old CGI image into a scene. It’s easy to forget that animation is an art, not a science. We have the ability to flood celluloid with digital chicanery, but that’s no promise that it will be effective. Blomkamp knows the secrets better than most. And then there’s the issue of Chappie himself. Sharlto Copley (Blomkamp’s go-to hero) dons a motion capture suit as the magical robot child. He has winged ears like Hermes. He has an extra pair of angry eyes like Mr. Potato Head. Even if none of the plot elements worked at all, the way the visual effects team transforms a lifeless authoritarian statue into a sympathetic, vulnerable human being speaks volumes. Clearly they went to great pains to depict how the same limbs, joints, and expressive qualities used for violence and oppression can also be used to show love and express beauty. That says a lot more than when Chappie tells Deon he doesn’t want to play with a rubber chicken anymore because he’s “straight up gangster.” Copley’s performance is easily the best thing in the movie. He’s asked to do some ridiculous, nonsensical things — for instance, at one point Ninja drops Chappie off in front of a random gang of hoodlums to “teach him about the real world.” What does he expect this will accomplish? How does he know the kids will randomly attack and not, I don’t know, run away from the police robot who by all accounts could easily start shooting them? If Chappie is bullet proof and doesn't feel pain, why does it bother him that the kids are pelting him with rocks? It could be a ridiculous moment — it kind of still is — but Copley’s wounded, eccentric performance sells the main idea. He’s a child lost in a harsh world. The script may have failed him, but the actor and animators refuse to leave him behind.