Review: Chappie (movie)

I have been something of a fan of Neil Blomkamp since District 9.  I don’t normally like graphic, violent movies but I make exception for Blomkamp films.  I finally saw Chappie, his third film, this weekend (I know, I’m only like 18 months behind the times…)

Part of the reason I am a Blomkamp fan is that his films are not set in America. And not in a “American writing about another country” way, he is writing about his own land and people – and it shows. I can’t say exactly what the difference is between well-researched American writers and native-writers, but there is a difference – and it may be as simple as the tenor and the pacing.

Even if I hadn’t known Chappie was a Blomkamp film, I am pretty confident I’d figure it out. He has a unique style which was most evident (in my opinion) in Elysium. I think Chappie however was a better film in many ways. I felt like I was being told a story and getting a message, but it wasn’t as blatant a message as Elysium (I think of that one as “beat your head with the message” honestly – I enjoy the movie, but it is a bit preachy!)

So overall, I enjoyed Chappie. The characters were… mostly believable. The criminals Ninja and Yolandi are actually very weak characters to me. Yolandi is supposed to be a hardened criminal, and yet much of the movie she spends acting naive of the criminal life her lover leads. Ninja feels almost like a caricature of a criminal rather than a rounded person. As two very formative people in Chappie’s life, their flatness stands out against him as he develops.

My other biggest complaint is the disbelief I have in the corporate world. Now, I will be the first to admit I am probably naive to some of the shadier sides of the corporate world – but even with that, I can’t accept that a “nice guy” like Deon would be so obtuse to Vincent.  There is a scene where I had a “whelp, this film just left reality. HR would be on his ass faster than a hawk on a mouse.” and from that moment on in the film, I had to force my suspension of reality.

There is also the fact that the CEO of the company, when asked by an employee to use a rejected/scrapped unit for something that could make AWESOME PR – she rejected it because…. ummm…. he questioned her authority or something? Granted, he did a pretty shit job of making his case to the CEO, but still that was a moment when any CEO worth their salt would/should have gone, “Well, hmmm you say you think you can make a model which would expand the bounds of human understanding. I bet we could write that off on our taxes – or get a government grant for the research hours which would cover your salary.  What if we used some spare parts or rejected model plans, put out an extra $2,000 and made sure it didn’t look like our fighting-style robots. That way we can even expand our market out of the military/weapons business and put even more people out of work because we’ll have robots who can paint houses, cook meals….”

I mean really, like I was sitting there 20 minutes into this film and wondering how this women ever became CEO of a company – much less supposedly made this company successful – when she thinks a weapons company should only EVER make weapons and never explore other markets. Ok, so granted that sometimes people get very set in their thought processes. She thinks of the company as a weapons company -NOT a technology company. The entire conversation bothered me. It felt like it was forcing conflict instead of being an obvious choice the CEO was making. And on the other side, if this guy is so brilliant or whatever that this “super powerful” CEO knows him and his work… he should either have the skillset to make a better appeal to her or have someone between him and the CEO he should have been presenting to.

I know, I got a little caught up in the corporate-relationship thing. It created a huge plot hole for me that forced a level of suspension-of-disbelief I didn’t appreciate having to hold.  Hell, I would argue Avatar forced me to work less on suspending the disbelief – and it was pure fantasy!

Yes, that was quite the rant on how awful a core plot-element weakened the film. I wouldn’t want that to be a final discouragement for anyone who might want to watch Chappie – I did enjoy the film for what it was. However, I think it’s fair to warn people that the writer might not have ever worked with an HR team before. Or a CEO. Or a manager. and it shows.  There is still a lot of interesting thought around consciousness, what does it mean to be “human,” and what are the responsibilities of parents (ok, the last might be a stretch but I felt like it was a possible topic).

If you like either District 9 or Elysium and haven’t seen Chappie, you probably should. If you haven’t seen either District 9 or ElysiumChappie is a decent movie to introduce you to Blomkamp’s style.  Beware though, violence is a staple and he doesn’t shy away from making it graphic (and even worse  for me- believable).