NINJA;Jose Pablo Cantillo

The Muddled Message

For all of Blomkamp’s bluntness, though, he still fails to get across a clear message. It starts out feeling like a critique of drone warfare or militarized police forces, but the story doesn’t go down either of those channels. It’s mostly concerned with the one robot who isn’t a drone or a cop.

Once the film focuses on Chappie, it becomes the story of an innocent discovering that humans are terrible. But only some of them. And only sometimes. And there are no suggestions about what might or should be done about it. There’s also some vague stuff about the nature of consciousness and the human soul, but again, Blomkamp simply presents those concepts without digging into them.

Most irritatingly, Blomkamp asks us to feel bad about the negative human qualities that Chappie is picking up, and then cheer for those same ugly human-inspired instincts when it makes for a good show. It’s like the scene in Big Hero 6 where Baymax is programmed to fight, only that was a tragic moment; here, it’s jarringly played as a triumph.

1251623 - Chappie

The Look of the Future

If there’s one thing about Chappie that does feel original, it’s the look. With his bright-orange arm, puppy-like antennae, and relatively organic movements, Chappie has a distinctive appearance. Plus, it tells a story: his utilitarian clunkiness fits with his original purpose as a robot cop. That’s before he gains other accessories, like the gold chains and graffiti bestowed upon him by his criminal “parents.”

Also very unique is the gangster-twee aesthetic of the criminals’ hideout. It makes somewhat less sense for their characters, as I found myself wondering if these lowlifes really spent their free time stealing candy-colored kids’ bikes and painting their beer bottles mint green. Still, it’s a nice deviation from the Apple Store-like futures we usually see in sci-fi films.

Chappie (4)

Big Ideas, Small Screwups

For all of his faults, Blomkamp deserves credit for demonstrating ambition and imagination at a time when it feels like nine out of every ten wide releases is the second sequel to the third reboot of a sixty-year-old comic book. And he clearly wants to make something good and meaningful.

But going back to his candid assessment about Elysium, he confessed there that he has a tendency to “get so caught up in concepts and ideas.” In Chappie, it shows. The plot sprawls out in a dozen directions as if he were too excited about the possibilities of a childlike robot to pick just one. He lavishes attention on the visual details of his not-too-distant future world, even if he doesn’t seem to have much interest in the characters that live in it.

In the same interview, Blomkamp says it’s important to “adapt and learn” but based on Chappie, he hasn’t, really. Once again, it’s the script and story that “just aren’t there.” It’s quickly becoming apparent that screenwriting is Blomkamp’s major weakness, and one that has the potential to tank what could be an interesting career.

Fortunately, there’s no shortage of scripts or writers in Hollywood, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to find a fix. And if that’s a lesson Blomkamp still isn’t willing to learn, we can keep our fingers crossed that Fox has.

Chappie (6)

Pages: Previous page 1 2

Cool Posts From Around the Web:

About the Author