Chappie (2015), Directed by Neill Blomkamp is about a decommissioned police droid that is reused as a test subject to see if robots can think, learn, and love like a human can. Neil Blomkamp also directed the movies Elysium (2013), and District 9 (2009) one of my favorite movies. It’s interesting to see that when he directs a movie you can tell it’s his work because of the way that it looks and where it is taking place. The main stars of the film were Dev Patel (The Protagonist) and Hugh Jackman (The Antagonist). Chappie was not a bad movie. It had some flaws but it wasn’t anything too major that I couldn’t get over.
Just like Elysium or District 9, Chappie takes place in Africa, more specifically the
country of South Africa. In the future, police bots are deployed to help assist police officers in everyday life. One day during a drug bust Scout 22 (Chappie) is sent off to look for one of the hostiles when he is shot in the chest with an RPG. The Hostiles get away and scout 22 is brought back to the office. Here we meet his maker, Deon. It is also here that we meet the antagonist Vincent. Deon inspects Scout 22 and issues him to the compactor. Meanwhile back at their base the criminals are planning a heist and are trying to figure out how not to get stopped by the robot police. Yolandi proposes the idea of kidnapping Deon so that he can tell them how to shut down the robots. Later that night Deon finds a way to replicate human consciousness into machines. But he needs something to test it on. When Deon gets back to work he steals a chip that belongs to the company that he worked for and Scout 22 to reprogram him. On his way home he is stopped by the thugs and is kidnapped. They interrogate him and find scout 22. They force him to reprogram it so that they can use him for the heist and so he does. The artificial intelligence software is successful, but Chappie is now a child.
It is here where I realized that my biggest issue with this movie was the acting. For some of the characters, it was a little bit over the top, more specifically the characters Ninja and Yolandi. I noticed that their acting was so bad that it was up to the character Amerika to step in and help out. The emotions from them felt forced and faked, and the characters (particularly Ninja) were very annoying. It was like he was trying too hard to prove himself as a gangster. I noticed how unrealistic his character was when Chappie was first born. For no apparent reason when nothing was really triggering him he pulls a gun on Deon and tells him to activate the bot which, keep in mind Deon is already doing that. In my head, I was wondering how the director had let this slide. The acting was atrocious. So, during the movie, I did some research.
I found out that Ninja and Yolandi are actually husband and wife and they are actually a
part of a South African rap group names Die Antwood. The way they acted in the movie is the same persona that they try to emphasize in their music. And the way they dressed in the movie is the same way that you can see them dressed in cover art or Google images. Ok cool, no problem movies do this all the time. But it started to get distracting because as Chappie evolves the movie starts to turn into a product placement orgy. There are scenes where Chappie is playing with a Yolandi doll which makes me as the audience go,
“Where the fuck and how did he get that?” There are scenes in which Yolandi is walking around in her own shirt with her own logo. Then there is a scene where Chappie is learning to be “cool” and he is now getting tattoos. Ninja spray paints Chappie with a design that says “Ten$oin” then you ask yourself,
“Well, what the fuck is that?” You do some research and what do you know. You find out that that was one of the names of their albums. And there is no problem with a little bit of product placement that’s not my issue. The real issue was that it really wasn’t serving towards character development, it was cheap. Think back to the movie E.T. (1982) they used Reese’s pieces as product placement. But, it helped to serve the story because it was
used to help find and lure E.T. out of hiding. Another good example of product placement is the Wilson ball from the movie Cast Away (2000) directed by Robert Zemeckis. Not only was the product placement there but it helped with character development. It showed how slowly Tom Hanks’ character was going crazy.
Yeah, Chappie was playing with a doll.
“You want to be a hardcore gangster? No dolls allowed.” It also could have been another doll. But instead, they made it specifically a Yolandi doll dressed like her with a haircut like her too. Why this doesn’t work is because in the movie Yolandi is not this famous superstar. She is a thug that lives in a trap house that needs to steal money for a living. It would be different and would actually make some sense if she was a rock star that was constantly on tour and for some reason Chappie was reprogramed to be her security guard or something.
There was, however, a lot of good in this movie. I talked a lot about the bad but the good really overshadows it. In the end, the story is great and it’s solid. And if you wanted to look, the story did have a deeper meaning which is something that I love in movies. While the acting from Ninja and Yolandi was distracting, the acting from Dev Patel, Hugh Jackman, and the robot Chappie himself were great. I could see why Hugh Jackman’s character Vincent would have such a strong hatred for Deon. It felt like Vincent was right from his perspective. It goes downhill and non-relatable when he goes out of his way to sabotage everything Deon has worked for however which is what makes him a good antagonist. You are able to understand where the character is coming from until he crosses the line according to the morals that you as a viewer have.
One of my favorite parts of the movie ironically (being that I wasn’t a big fan of her acting) was the scene where Chappie asks Yolandi to read him a bedtime story. And the story is about a black sheep. She tells him that a black sheep means that you are different. Then she goes into telling Chappie that even though he is a robot he still has a soul and he is conscious. Now, this scene is so important because I saw it as a mirror to how we as people think. We saw the creation of Chappie from the beginning all the way
to where the movie ends. How does Chappie have a soul like you and me? Where will his soul go when he does? Where will our soul go? It made me think because in this scene she tells him that he has a soul when he dies it will go somewhere else. It is here Chappie starts to get the image of death. How do we know that everything that we are told about having a soul is not true? How do we know that when we die we will go somewhere else? I love how it questioned existence without really telling us that that is what was going on.
That scene was important because it changed Chappie. We start to understand that Chappie, even though he is a robot still has fears. He cannot, like a lot of people coup with the idea of death. So he does everything in his power to stop it from happening. Even after being kidnapped by Vincent he explains,
“Please stop! Chappie has fears!” And that was yet another plus from this movie: the emotion of a robot and how as a viewer you were able to feel for him. It was clever the way they used the eyes on Chappie and the ears like a dog’s. When Chappie is excited his ears go up. When he is afraid, or sad his ears sag. One of my favorite displays of emotion on Chappie comes from the scene where Ninja and Amerika are trying to get Chappie to steal cars for them so they can strip them to parts. After Ninja tells Chappie the cars have been stolen from his, the screen that was supposed to be his eyes form to eyebrows pointing downward and Chappie’s face begins to shake. You are able to feel the rage in Chappie. It was so well done that it was scary. How and why do I care for this robot?
The visual effects were fantastic! One of the things that I see that Blomkamp enjoys doing is play with giant robots. One of the biggest questions that I have which I’ll most likely just have to watch behind the scenes videos for is how often Chappie was CG or if he was built as an actual robot with a remote. The way the actors were able to interact with Chappie felt almost very real. He reacted on time, he spoke to them with no issues, and it was like speaking to an actual human.
I didn’t notice anything too artsy or extra special about the Cinematography and I guess it was because they wanted to keep a more realistic grounded look to the film. I also noticed that the movie looked just like District 9 and Elysium (once again I brought up his past work). This led me to believe that all three movies had the same Cinematographer, and they do, Trent Opaloch. He was also Cinematographer for Captain America: Civil War (2016) and Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014). It’s funny because now I can start to see how much of an input Blomkamp has on the look of his films because the Captain America movies look completely different.
What was different was that this was composed by Hans Zimmer. Usually, I’m used to something loud, but I didn’t really get too much of that from the movie until the final standoff moment of the film before Yolandi (Yo, you have about five seconds to avoid any spoilers for the film. You have been warned) dies. It was funny because during that scene everything was in slow motion, but you could hear Hans Zimmer’s music in the background making noise. The first thing I thought of was Zack Snyder and Batman v. Superman (2016). This was before I knew who was composing. So it was cool to see how much impact musicians can have on a film.
If I were to rate this movie I would have to give it a 7/10. That is mainly because of the acting and how much the product placement of the movie impacted my experience. If I directed this movie (which Neil Blomkamp did a fantastic job doing) I would have swapped out the characters that were Ninja and Yolandi and most likely try to renovate the trap house to look a little bit more menacing. For characters that were so important to the film, I would have spent a little bit more time looking for better actors. I also would have changed the ending, I think that it could have been better and part of the reason why the film wasn’t was because Blomkamp favored Yolandi and Ninja too much.
Let’s take it back to where Deon is about to move Chappie’s consciousness into another bot. It would have been a better ending if Chappie instead died. Now think about why, throughout the film, one of Chappie’s biggest fears is death, the unknown, and losing the people that he loves. This is very primal, like any other human. This is why he puts so much time into researching what is human consciousness. He is the only one ever to actually be able to put that into code which puts the question of “the soul” into a whole other perspective. If Chappie were to sacrifice his life saving to save Deon, and Deon failed to return the favor it would have hit us harder. Chappie would have died with the
information on how to essentially become immortal. On top of that, we’ve followed his journey since birth so his death would impact us more because we grew with him since he was reprogrammed. Deon now on the run because all of the scouts are being shut down, he can still do research projects like Chappie to try to figure out what consciousness is, but it wouldn’t be the same. No matter how many bots he brought back we lost Chappie. We had that emotional attachment with Chappie. Just like when we found out that Samantha from the movie Her (2013) had to go and we found out she was just one of many OS’s in the world. It shocked us because we grew to learn and love Samantha. If Chappie died, even after the movie that pain of losing him would hang over us. But instead it was a happier ending, and I think the main reason why was just to bring Yolandi back as a scout. She had her own custom colors and all.