Where Chappie succeeds as a movie is in telling a memorable story, in making you feel things. But is it enjoyable? A well-crafted story? Not so much.
My biggest hesitation on recommending it is that Chappie is not an easy movie to watch. It’s stressful, violent, and requires a lot of thinking while it heavily leans on the fiction part of science fiction. This is not a story to kick back and take in, nor is it one to make you feel ready to take on the world. It’s more one to make you feel like the world is a crappy place where potential is a dangerous thing to have.
It also seems too familiar. This is Neil Blomkamp’s third feature-length movie as both writer and director. And if you told me District 9 was happening over a few blocks to the right and Elysium was concurrently over yonder, it wouldn’t seem that farfetched. It’s not just the South African setting; Blomkamp has an aesthetic. His movies have a lot of similar story elements in them, as well, which I can’t get too far into spoilers. But there are always the outsiders, the underbelly of the city, the one well-intentioned guy in the midst of uncompromising bureaucracy. In District 9 it all came together into something seemingly magical and different. In Elysium it was a total off-the-rails mess. And in Chappie it hangs mid-air somewhere in between. When I picked this movie for my list, I thought having Terri Tatchell back on board with Blomkamp as a co-writer would be enough to make it all work, but it wasn’t.
The movie’s overall message isn’t clear. The logic takes one too many leaps. I’m also worried about what looks like the start of a pattern of casting known powerhouse actresses – Jodie Foster in Elysium and Sigourney Weaver in Chappie – as authority figures with minimal screen time. They seem just be there to be stubborn, say no, and stand an inch away from regressing into feet stomping because-I-said-so tantrums.
Chappie himself, though, was a marvel. It’s a technical achievement that this digital robot blends in seamlessly with his environment – actually way better than the graphic bloody special effects that are also in the film. I’ve read the motion capture work done by frequent Blomkamp collaborator Sharlto Copley was used as reference and then animation was later done by hand. It sounds like a lot of work, but it’s a beautiful job. He’s the emotional center of the movie too. I welled up several times and it was all because of a robot trying to make sense of a crazy world. It’s too bad none of the other characters are anywhere near as deep. And I still don’t understand why the official plot summary misrepresents the movie the way it does.
So in the end I can’t say this movie is a must-see. See it if you want to; you’ve now had much more of a warning than I did.
Chappie was part of Strange Age of Tomorrowland World Awakens, my top ten movies to see in 2015.
Kay grew up wanting to be an astronaut. After seeing Star Wars, she wanted to be Princess Leia, Han Solo, and an astronaut. Life’s taken her on a bit of a different path, but she’s still a Star Wars fangirl at heart who enjoys surprising people with how geeky she really is. A voice actor, photographer, and artist who also consults in communications and marketing, Kay spends the little bit of free time she has reading, writing, and, of course, making pew pew noises. She would pick up more jobs and hobbies if she was a Time Lord. You can follow her on Twitter.
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