My gut instinct is to say that Chappie goes off the rails, but that would imply the film was on the rails in the first place. Here is the kind of bad film that isn’t just low on quality, but constantly left me gobsmacked at the poor decisions every aspect of it’s production made. The newest film from director Neil Blomkamp is a cataclysmic and unfocused disaster that’s I do feel comfortable dubbing memorable, albeit for all the wrong reasons.
Like many sci-fi films (i.e. Pacific Rim, Star Wars), Chappie begins with an explanation of the world the movie takes place in. Anderson Cooper, via a CNN new story, rattles off information about police robots that have been put in place in Johannesburg, South Africa. The creator of those robots is Deon Wilson (Dev Petal), a man whose working on a new program that’ll give artificial intelligence to robotic beings.
The moment Deon walks into his house, I begin to grow uneasy. Here, the films recurring penchant for forgoing subtlety begins, with Deon’s fondness for robots being reinforced by a little robot butler he made that follows him around. Instead of adding nuance to the character, all that little gizmo did was remind me of the toy servants from Blade Runner, and also evoked the 80’s robot from The Muppets in terms of his appearance. But trust me, that’s the least problematic example of this kind of issue that runs rampant throughout the film.
What is the worst example of this trend you ask? Why, that easily goes to Hugh Jackman’s character, Vincent Moore, whose jealous of Dean, since his robots have been far more popular than a robotic design he created. Vincent is a man who carries a holstered gun with him at all times (despite the fact that he works in a cubicle work environment), always has a football handy for him to hold in a menacing manner and violent corners Dean in front of numerous people without arousing long term suspicion. It’s the kind of bizarre character that might have been amusing in another context, but the film treats him in such a serious manner that he just doesn’t work.
And then there’s the titular robot, Chappie, played by Sharlto Copley. This guy is actually endearing enough in earlier portions of the film, and the effects used to bring him to life are legitimately impressive. But here’s the deal with Chappie; when he’s brought into this world, he has the intelligence of a child, as the characters (primarily female gangster Yolandi, whom Chappie dubs “mommy”) repeatedly emphasize. So it gets kind of disturbing to watch scenes where this robot is set aflame and has his arm amputated. Such depictions of violence are obviously meant to get the audience to sympathize with Chappie and root for him for the rest of the film, but all it did was make me as a viewer uncomfortable. My discomfort was only further whenever some gangsters (who Chappie regards as a family of sorts) begin to teach this “kid”, who refuses to kill people, how to use a knife so that it makes enemies “go to sleep”. Really, really perturbing stuff.
To boot, it’s not like those unsettling scenes help enhance an atmosphere of tension or make the characters more compelling, they only reinforce how miscalculated this entire movie. By the time a criminal, whose acted in a constantly despicable manner the entire movie, is depicted in a heroic light during the films conclusion, I had thrown my hands up in exhaustion. This feature’s devotion to just being as bizarrely unlikable and idiotic as possible was already taxing at the point, but the “must-be-seen-to-be-believed” ending reaches a new height of abnormality that might be admirable if it weren’t so insultingly abrupt. Perhaps, then, another reason to not say Chappie goes off the rails is that such a phrase wouldn’t do justice to the kind of poppycock quality this film thrives on.