In defense of CHAPPiE: Why the critics are wrong
By Duke on Saturday 7 March 2015, 22:25 - Permalink
Well it's finally here, Neill Blomkamp's latest Sci-Fi outing and it sure seems like opinion is divided on it. While reviewers have almost universally taken a shit all over it, read the comments and you'll see a lot of people coming to Chappie's defense. Personally I think the critics are all idiots, almost every single review I've read makes similar complaints which I would like to address. I'm going to do my best to keep it spoiler free, but I do need to address some of the specific scenes that critics are complaining about. I've seen these on so many different reviews I wonder if any of them actually saw the movie or if they're all copying someone else.
Just to get this out of the way right now, one of the complaints that pisses me off the most is saying that Hugh Jackman and Sigourney Weaver are "wasted" in small roles. I even saw a review complaining about how Jackman wasn't in the trailer enough. Seriously?! Whenever I see a big name (who's not washed up) in a small role I think to myself "Wow, now there's a person with faith in this script" and that's what I got from them. They may have had small one dimensional roles but they filled them deftly, and I don't think anything was lacking simply because they're capable of more.
Now on to the real stars, if you're going by screen time, Die Antwoord. Clearly the decision to make them main characters (playing themselves, complete with their own names and faces on their clothes, with an almost overwhelming influence on the movie's esthetic) rubs some people the wrong way. Some of their actions in the film have been noted as "illogical" for their characters, like letting Dev Patel live repeatedly. No one seems to notice that they never really prove themselves to be as bad or as tough as they act. Sure they're in a big firefight when we first meet them but that's self preservation, not cold blooded killing like the critics apparently expect. Do we really need a step aside scene where Ninja's like "Ahh I was just trying to scare him" to piece it together that maybe they're just wannabe gangsters, and that's why they ended up getting pushed around by the real bad guys in the beginning? This theory also helps make sense of a particularly uncharacteristic show of humanity by Ninja near the end.
So yeah, Ninja does let Dev Patel live, and I didn't bat an eye because it made sense to me. Similarly Dev Patel keeps coming back and doesn't alert the authorities, which is somehow questionable to every single critic. Really though? It was made abundantly clear that were he to be exposed he would just get arrested immediately, then he'd have to beg and plead from a prison cell to have the authorities rescue his life's work, about which they give zero fucks. Once again, all of this made sense to me, so I didn't see a single problem with the narrative there.
One of the other big complaints I've seen from critics I can't really attack without getting spoilery, but it's been mentioned in enough reviews you probably already know. The giant ED209 homage that Jackman's built fails to annihilate everyone as intended. Of course it does, it's a giant lumbering monstrosity being controlled remotely by a human being wearing a Virtual Boy, instead of a superintelligent sentient computer brain in an agile combat chassis. That said, Jackman's character actually does do quite a bit of damage with the thing, so yet again I can't understand why this is a point of contention.
Now these are just the main persistent complaints I've seen about this movie, and it really makes me wonder about the reviewers. I can understand that it's hard to identify with Ninja and Yolandi but isn't that kind of the whole point, and the difference between this and other explorations of artificial intelligence? The single most advanced intelligence on the planet in the hands of the least advanced intelligence on the planet, essentially Los Locos with a little maternal instinct thrown in there. It's not important to like any of the characters, and their decisions don't have to make sense on the surface because that doesn't even happen in real life. By the end of the movie if you're paying attention it's not even CHAPPiE who gains the most humanity, it's Die Antwoord. These people who seem so cold and callous end up doing things that are "out of character" at the end and people call it an inconsistency instead of personal development.
Bottomline to me is that Neill Blomkamp's not afraid to do what he wants and I really respect that about his work. CHAPPiE is a wonderful collection of many different concepts, and I don't believe it should be faulted for that. Saying that "it doesn't know what kind of movie it wants to be" is way off base, this movie is exactly what it should be: An exploration of the duality of man, nature vs. nurture, and consciousness vs. humanity. It's a story being told about us, how even the worst of us can do good, and the best of us can do bad. So if you're on the fence, and you liked Blomkamp's previous work, get off the fence and get out to the theatre. Although, I do have one complaint. I don't think CHAPPiE says 'Input!' even once :(