Reviews For The Easily Distracted:
Describe This Movie In One Simpsons Quote: "My worst, eh? Smithers; release the robotic Richard Simmons!"
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Three ED-209s out of five.
Brief Plot Synopsis: Scout 22 is alive.
Tagline: "Humanity's last hope isn't human."
Better Tagline: "The problem's plain to see/Too much technology."
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Even with the success of his "Scout" model police robots, Tetravaal designer Deon (Dev Patel) won't be happy until he realizes his dream of developing a true AI. Meanwhile, the Scout program's success is bad news for rival designer Vincent (Hugh Jackman), whose heavily militarized "Moose" robot is losing funding as result. Deon finally gets a chance to test his program on an about-to-be junked Scout, just as he runs afoul of gang members Ninja (Ninja), Yolan-Di (Yolandi Visser), and America (Jose Pablo Cantillo) who are looking for a way to disable the Scouts for their own ends.
"Critical" Analysis: In the illustrious history of benevolent movie robots (No. 5, Andrew, the Iron Giant), you'll see some common themes. Oft times the robot aspires to be more human, while a handful of noble Homo sapiens attempt to help, mostly by acting against the general inclination of human beings to destroy/control the machine in question and generally prove ourselves to be the shittiest species ever.
I bring this up to acknowledge right off the bat that Chappie is derivative as hell. Neill Blomkamp's latest doesn't bother to hide its influences, everything from RoboCop to Short Circuit to the director's own District 9. There's a powerful sense of déjà vu throughout the whole thing, which starts one down the road to wondering if he might want to step away from the dystopia for a bit.
It's also ... rather dumb. I thought cinematic depictions of computer programming wouldn't get much more on the nose than not renaming the virus file in Office Space (the only flaw in an otherwise Great Film), but here we have, among other things, Deon uploading "consciousness.dat" to the wrecked Scout. There are about a half dozen other moments like this, but here I'll just mention the continuing movie practice of the bad guy performing computer-related shenanigans even the most rudimentary logging program would pick up, and keycards to restricted areas working long past an employee (Deon) has presumably been stripped of employment.
There's also the hilarious proposition that Vince can't sell his "Moose" robot to the police because -- get this -- it has too many guns. Bring that bad boy to America, dude. We'll have it inside day care centers in a week.
And yet, I still didn't hate it. For starters, the effects are fantastic. Anyone who remembers the era of stop-motion or even recent CGI embarrassments like the first Sam Raimi Spider-Man has to admit Chappie is damned impressive. I think a big part of my favorable inclination had to do with the realization of the character on screen, as well as the director's by now familiar style.
Sharlto Copely, a Blomkamp stalwart from his short film days, provides Chappie's voice, and I probably took more delight than I should admit in hearing a sentient robot breaking out in Joburg gangsta patois. Once his AI is loaded, he's essentially left to be brought up by two sets of opposed parental figures Chris Taylor style: Deon supports full autonomy and the exploration of his creative side, while Ninja just sees a way to maximize his profit-making potential.
By the way, I don't know that casting the members of Die Antwoord is the stunt some seem to think it is. In fact, if you can find more than ten random passersby who've ever heard of the band in the first place, I'll give you a trunkload of Krugerrands.
But I don't think anyone is having more fun than Jackman. With that mullet, running around in cargo shorts and boots and carrying a sidearm, he's living the bogan dream. That said, is it not an HR violation to threaten someone with a gun in an office in South Africa? Apparently not, especially if you're argument is "you're just having some fun." That's the tech industry for you.
As I mentioned, Blomkamp has a specific vision of the near future, and it's mostly unpleasant. Granted, the setting is only a year or so from now, but 2016 Johannesburg isn't much different than the alternate version of District 9 (and can easily be viewed as a precursor to Elysium): it's hot, overcrowded, and poverty-stricken. It's a hell of a lot like a Thomas Friedman book, only with more guns and fewer dubious economic bromides. Similarly, Chappie is a lot like Blomkamp's other movies. I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt here, barely, but it's probably for the last time.
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