Chappie doesn’t live up to its hype
Although it was visually striking, Chappie suffered from thematic tropes similar to previous films by Blomkamp.
In 2009, Neill Blomkamp stunned audiences and science-fiction enthusiasts worldwide with his gritty South Africa-based blockbuster District 9. The film was a breath of fresh air for fans of extraterrestrial narratives and portrayed the subsequent events after a small colony of aliens are grouped into ghettos just outside Johannesburg. The film’s adoption of a documentary style and its stark depiction of the ensuing cultural conflicts between the military, local gangs and aliens proved to be a unique portrait of what the science fiction genre can offer when turned in upon itself.
Needless to say, following this remarkable debut the expectations were set high for Blomkamp’s next film in 2013, Elysium, which he recently admitted was a failure. However this past weekend The Cord had the chance to see Chappie, his latest sci-fi flick, to determine if it lives up to the lofty precedent set by District 9.
Andrew: So Lena, what were your first impressions of Chappie?
Lena: The plot line was convoluted; there were too many unnecessary characters and despite Blomkamp’s efforts it was very difficult to sympathize with Chappie because his character development advanced at such an erratic pace.
Andrew: I agree. None of the characters really stood out as someone to hang on to and were reminiscent of the familiar archetypes of the science fiction genre: the flourishing scientist whose exploration of new technology is restricted by the very corporation he works for, the jealous workplace counterpart who will stop at nothing remotely rational to see his own alternative method put into place and the ignorant grunt who acts impulsively and shoots first and realizes his wrongs later after his love interest dies. What were some things you liked about the film?
Lena: It’s difficult to pick out elements that were worthy of praise. From a technical point of view, it was well executed. Hans Zimmer’s score elevated the pace and mood and the actors’ performances were respectable but nothing noteworthy. Hugh Jackman’s role as the villain was unexpected, if not slightly unnecessary given the tangential quality of his plotline. Honestly, nothing in particular stood out for me — it was monotonous in every aspect.
Andrew: It reminded me of the standard set by previous science fiction films and it failed to reinvent the tropes of the genre in a way that District 9 did. The CGI and special effects were on point, expertly done and were drawn from the same aesthetic that served as the robotic basis for Blomkamp’s previous two films. I have no problem with aesthetical continuity across one’s work, but this time around Blomkamp can’t simply regurgitate a familiar narrative formula and character arc without adding anything to set his latest film apart. Did you have any thoughts on Die Antwoord’s involvement?
Lena: As far as acting goes, their performances were commendable considering they’re not professionals. However, their characters were so trope-laden that it was hard to generate any sympathy for them. There was Yolandi, who despite her active involvement with the gang in the beginning was forced into a passive, maternal role once Chappie was introduced. She did very little to advance the plot and was only used as emotional leverage at the end. Similarly, Ninja inhabited an obviously masculine space by refusing to develop any emotional connections with anyone. Even his relationship with Yolandi was underdeveloped and absent.
Andrew: I didn’t mind their acting either and was pleased with their performances within the scripts they were given. I also found it interesting their characters had the same names as their monikers for Die Antwoord, which coincided with the fact that they frequently wore merchandise depicting their band and each other’s faces.
Regardless, it was nice to see Blomkamp paying tribute to his heritage for a Johannesburg-set movie by choosing to cast two of the biggest pop cultural influences from South Africa. It’s clear neither of us was satisfied by Chappie and did not get the chance to see the film that we hoped we would.
Lena: It was nice to see a big blockbuster set outside of America. As far as the movie goes, it suffered from a weak narrative and tropic themes. It definitely didn’t have the same emotional impact as Wall-E, despite Blomkamp’s initial hopes.
Andrew: This was a film that was promising to begin with, but never did quite enough to trigger the attention of the audience beyond its production value. Hopefully Blomkamp can do better next time around. In the meantime, where can we get some of that awesome Die Antwoord merchandise?