I love movies. I love writing about them. Hope you like reading what I write.
I’d like to preface this review with a short retrospective on today’s film’s director, Neil Blomkamp.
The South African filmmaker rose to fame in 2009 with his debut sci-fi effort District 9, produced by Peter Jackson.
At one point I felt I could put District 9 in my top 10 of all time. It’s a clever, well-made and extremely entertaining action film. Plus, its combination of found footage and cinematic techniques hold up better than anything else that has attempted found footage throughout its runtime.
Elysium, his second feature, came out four years later. I enjoyed it though it did expose a flaw in Blomkamp’s films, all two of them. He makes painfully obvious social commentaries.
While the messages are not as blatant and pretentious as the Wachowskis’, when I watch District 9 again, now, it sometimes feels like someone is poking me and saying “Do you get it? This is about the apartheid!”
A political message is fine though in fiction, of course, and this trait does not stop me from enjoying Blomkamp’s first two films, but I totally understand why some would feel rubbed the wrong way.
Another issue some have, with District 9 at least, is the common belief that it was a wholly unique film. It of course wasn’t. The film borrows many elements from other sci-fi efforts. However what does make it unique is the way it mixes those traits with some relatively novel ideas.
The Auteur theory, whereby a director leaves a recognisable fingerprint on a film, can be applied to find that Tarantino likes slow stories driven by great dialogue or that Michael Bay likes attractive women and buff military men running away from explosions. It may be unfair to profile Blomkamp on only two films, but it is an interesting exercise.
So what does Neil Blomkamp, South Africa’s most famous director (which I have to give him credit for), like in his films? Gritty Science-fiction action with a protagonist with some selfish trades going up against a psychopathic villain who does awful things, because they believe they are for the greater good. All while saying something politically motivated.
Now on with the review.
Chappie is a sci-fi tale about a robot with a inquisitive mind of a child despite an extremely powerful body.
A number of the things I was looking forward to from the trailers advertising this film were present. In particular Blomkamp’s gritty near future world-building demonstrated in his previous films and the titular robot.
This robot, despite reminding me of every powerful cinema creation with childlike innocence (The Iron Giant, Baymax, E.T, et al), was indeed charming. Sharlto Copley lends his voice, and though you wouldn’t know it from the superb Weta Digital VFX, gave him life via motion capture.
However, and this is a big however, he inhabits a script with plot-holes as numerous as on a sieve and dialogue from a bad Doctor Who episode.
For one, the villain, played by Hugh Jackman, is a complete idiot, with a motivation more confusing than Javert’s in Les Miserables.
Like I said in my It Follows review, my no-spoiler policy in my reviews causes me to refuse to go through plot holes in any great detail. I cannot deny, though, that it did really pull me out of the film a few times.
The dialogue, as I said, also felt rather cheap. The most cringe-worthy lines come from Dev Patel’s character, Chappie’s Creator. In fact at one point I turned to the girl next to me and we both openly laughed at one of his apparently serious phrases.
Another couple of problems with this film’s screenplay, co-written by Blomkamp, is its pace which went like a bullet and is rejection of some scientific logic.
While I deal every week with a great deal of suspension in my disbelief, I spend a lot of my time in a dark room watching light hitting a wall, as a computing student some stuff here properly baffled me.
I will give this movie credit, however, in a couple of respects. While the action lacks the over-the-top glory fun of district 9, there was perhaps inherited from Peter Jackson, it is reasonably decent although a major action scene does begin part-way through its action.
Another positive is a message which is a little more of an intellectual exercise to decipher than previous Neil Blomkamp films. While I was able to work out that something to do with the ease with which children can be led into gangs by abusive friend circles and some philosophical stuff about the relationship between man and God (chappie and his maker), it was a piece of David Lynch compared to the director’s previous work.
This film, overall, suffers from one of the most unfortunate flaws in cinema. I wrote a better screenplay, mentally, while I was watching it. There is so much potential for a pretty good film, if only the two writers had come to me before amassing its $30 million budget.
It was recently announced that the next Alien movie will be directed by Neil Blomkamp. I think this is a superb decision. The man has proven that he can do gritty sci-fi I do believe he can possibly save this once great franchise.
I’ve heard people comment that this artist has sold out for bigger budgets and more famous actors. No. He has done what all successful filmmakers do. Expand his pallete.
It’s unfortunate that he wasn’t performing at his best here.
Recommended Scenario: If you want to see the range of quality even a good filmmaker can have.
If what I have written tells you that you would like this film, you can book tickets to see it at your local Cineworld here.