CHAPPIE (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours

MPAA Rating: R for Violence, Language and brief Nudity

Chappie poster

Directed by: Neill Blomkamp

Written by: Neill Blomkamp & Terri Tatchell

Starring: Sharlto Copley, Dev Patel, Ninja, Yolandi Visser, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Hugh Jackman & Sigourney Weaver

In 2009, a little film called DISTRICT 9 burst onto the cinematic scene and surprised the hell out of everybody. It seemed like a fantastic new master of mature science fiction had been born in director/writer Neill Blomkamp. Everyone was stoked to see his follow-up effort, ELYSIUM, with the hopes that it wouldn’t disappoint…and it sort of disappointed. While ELYSIUM was just okay at best, I still found myself hesitantly excited for CHAPPIE. Now that I’ve sat through Blomkamp’s third feature, I can say that I’m a bit worried for his next film (an entry in the ALIEN series). CHAPPIE is a mess that doesn’t necessarily know what it wants to be and doesn’t have a single character worth rooting for.

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In the near future, South Africa has employed the use of robotic police, Scouts, to help enforce the law and bring down crime. Deon Wilson, genius behind the Scouts, is now working on something far more important in his eyes. He wants to build a living, thinking robot with a conscious A.I. After a trio of ridiculous looking gangstas kidnap Deon, he is given an opportunity to do just that. Using a rundown Scout, Deon creates Chappie! Chappie is like a child, but with a higher IQ. While the trio of thugs want to train Chappie to fight for them, Deon is more concerned about Chappie embracing his newly given life. Unfortunately for everyone, a snarky weapons designer plans to stop Deon, destroy Chappie, and sell his own battle droid.

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CHAPPIE is not an original movie. There are definite influences all throughout the film. It reminded me of a hodgepodge of SHORT CIRCUIT, ROBOCOP, and BIG HERO 6. It’s also not at all subtle in its messages and commentary. The nature of God, feelings, and what it means to be alive are all brought up multiple times to a frustratingly excessive level. Everything in this film feels so recycled and dusty. Chappie’s journey is interesting enough to watch, but the movie really doesn’t focus on his journey and instead makes the gangstas manipulating him into the main plot. I thought this film was middle-of-the-road until the final 30 minutes (which are so stupidly godawful that you’re liable to get brain damage from smacking your forehead so much).

Chappie 3

Die Antwoord is a South African rap group playing two of the cartoonish looking gangstas in this film. Besides playing over-the-top and exaggerated versions of themselves (using their real names), their music is also heard through the film’s soundtrack. This was a clear creative decision made on Blomkamp’s part that doesn’t work in the slightest. I couldn’t take Die Antwoord’s members seriously as hardened gangstas in this film and they are main characters who I was supposed to care about. As if this weren’t enough, Dev Patel plays his genius character as a whiny little wuss who seems like a clichéd nerd stereotype (going as far as to yell “Philistines!” as an insult to the gangstas). Sigourney Weaver shows up for a total of five minutes tops as a weapons dealer and is totally wasted. Hugh Jackman is the only human character that I really liked, but he’s basically playing a predictable villain. Maybe, it was just because I was watching Wolverine play this robotics genius using underhanded methods to get his way, but I enjoyed every scene with Jackman. Sharlto Copley is entertaining as Chappie, but he’s really not much of a character given that he should be the main focus of this movie.

Chappie 4

I really don’t know what Blomkamp was going for with CHAPPIE and I don’t think that he did either. The inclusion of the band Die Antwoord is distracting and ridiculous beyond belief. There’s also this exaggerated wacky vibe to the whole film that doesn’t work. The supposedly sentimental scenes (including Chappie being read a bedtime story) come off as silly rather than heartwarming. Apparently, Blomkamp wrote this screenplay as an intended trilogy and we’ll likely never see the two follow-up chapters. It’s worth mentioning that I didn’t fully dislike this film until it really jumped the shark in the final 30 minutes. The ending is just mind-numbingly stupid. CHAPPIE is, at the very least, a lackluster disappointment.

Grade: C-

ELYSIUM (2013)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 49 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Bloody Violence and Language throughout

Elysium poster

Directed by: Neill Blomkamp

Written by: Neill Blomkamp

Starring: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley, Alice Braga & William Fichtner

In 2009, Neill Blomkamp delivered an unexpected hit with DISTRICT 9. The film had everything that great science-fiction stories contain. It had cool ideas, impressive effects, deeper meanings behind an original story, and was exciting from the first frame until the closing credits. Moviegoers praised the movie and it was held up as a standout of the year by many (myself included). It’s been four years and Blomkamp has returned with a remarkably more mainstream science-fiction blockbuster. Missing are the modest little known actors. Gone is the subtle commentary on the state of humanity. These have been replaced by a slightly creative premise that’s done in a familiar fashion and the typical flaws of any other big dumb science-fiction blockbuster. ELYSIUM is far from terrible, but it feels like a missed opportunity in a lot of ways.

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Set 151 years from now, ELYSIUM shows the Earth as an overpopulated ruin of its former self. Pollution is everywhere and the economy is so low that life in prison seems like a far better alternative to struggling to survive day-to-day. Meanwhile, all the wealthy are citizens of Elysium, a massive space station high above the Earth. On Elysium, they have a perfect atmosphere, stunning mansions, and a system for health care that can cure just about anything. Is it any wonder that the poor constantly try to blast off to this floating paradise….only to be captured or killed in the process?

Alice Braga;Sharlto Copley

Max Da Costa (Matt Damon with a shaved head) is a former criminal trying to go straight, but encountering a lot of difficulty presented in the form of the robotic guards that patrol our planet. After being exposed to a lethal dose of radiation, Max finds his only chance for survival in the form of a plan to go to Elysium and things get drastically more complicated from there. A specialized assassin, named Kruger, is after Max. Add in the factor that the rich will stop at nothing to keep Max from reaching Elysium.

Jodie Foster

I mentioned earlier that ELYSIUM feels like it’s missing a lot of crucial elements that made DISTRICT 9 so amazing. My complaint isn’t that I was expecting anything near the level of DISTRICT 9 (this being a follow-up to that film). Instead, I’m saying that without these important aspects that were thrown in to create an original and overall important piece of science fiction, ELYSIUM falls into being just another big blockbuster with a twist. The ideas presented aren’t really that original and the characters lack a compelling nature.

Matt Damon

Part of the latter could be attributed to the performers themselves. Matt Damon is just playing an action hero (one with a troubled past, no less). Jodie Foster is wooden as a Elysium’s Defense Secretary, sporting an unidentifiable on-again-and-off-again accent of some sort. Alice Braga is thrown in as an afterthought (and possible love interest to Matt Damon). Then there’s Sharlto Copley as Kruger. Copley previously played the protagonist in DISTRICT 9, but here he’s the villain. It seemed like a good change of pace for this actor, but he just goes way too over-the-top evil. Threatening children and using a fierce arsenal of weapons (some which literally blow up the victim into meaty chunks of who they once were), he’s more than just a moustache-twiddling villain. He’s tying the damsel to the train tracks and then driving the whole damn train towards her, while screaming obscenities the whole way. It’s distracting and silly to say the least.

Matt Damon;Sharlto Copley

The main problem I have with ELYSIUM isn’t the bad acting or the overblown shaky-cam (seriously, some scenes you couldn’t even make out who was doing what to whom). I take major issue with the plot itself. It seems very straight-forward on paper, but ELYSIUM keeps throwing in new elements along the way that feel like last-minute additions to lengthen the movie. From a sickly child being introduced during the last hour to a new threat that only takes precedence in the final act (which could have made for an entire movie by itself), it feels that director/writer Neill Blomkamp was stretching himself to the breaking point in trying to make another grand science-fiction spectacle with a brain to it. Speaking of which, the social commentary feels like you’re being hammered in the face with a sledgehammer. The premise itself is commentary enough, we don’t need any more cryptic dialogue or over-the-top portrayals of what scumbags the wealthy people are.

Matt Damon

ELYSIUM feels like a gun-for-hire vehicle that Arnold Schwarzenegger would have starred in during the 80’s. It’s ludicrous, silly, overblown, and stupid in a whole lot of ways. It’s decent when taken from that angle and the world itself looks top-notch, but there are so many flaws that plague this film that it takes it down from the level of potential sci-fi classic to just another big budget B-flick. ELYSIUM could have been the former, but is very much the latter. Worth a rental, but nothing more.

Grade: B-

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