Because I'm CHAPPiE...(Like a ROM Without a Roof)
The director of the brilliant District 9 (and the more ordinary Elysium) now has a third visionary sci-film under his belt. Neill Blomkamp is a great visual stylist—none of his movies look like anything else out there, and just when somebody takes up his concepts, he pushes things further into his bleak concept of the future as an extension of the strife of Johannesburg (or Jo-burg, as it's called in his movies, eschewing the Dutch influence) despite technology continuing to move forward. His movies always have a sense of wonder about the future, but it's always along the lines of "Wonder why everything is so shitty, still," (which is a variation of "If we can get to the Moon,* why can't we fill in the blank??")
CHAPPiE is no different, even though the ads make it seem like a winsome version of a distopian "Mad Max" movie. It is anything but. Yes, the performance of Sharlto Copley as the title character is a marvel, innovative and often very charming (Copley, who is Blomkamp's "go-to" actor for...everything...does a marvelous performance of the "motion capture" variety (the thing that Andy Serkis, of Peter Jackson's movies and in the new "Planet of the Apes" series, does so extraordinarily). The movie itself is a depressing look at technology and Society, while containing a couched message about the malleability of the human spirit and a cautionary one of being too fixed to expectations.
|SCOUT (CHAPPiE, specifically)
|Office politics in Jo'burg: Patel and Jackman
|Perp walk, Jo-burg style:
Yolandi, Ninja, Yankie, and CHAPPiE
|What CHAPPiE sees
|There's a warning label that says:
"Never fist-bump with a Scout-droid"
|"Walk like a man/Fast as you can"
Ninja teaches Chappie to "walk street"
That backstage swapping of personalities is a bit like a sub-plot of the movie, a variation of the Sci-Fi/Horror trope of mind-swapping (only in the new vernacular, it's "up-loading" and "down-loading"); whatever the term, it's a borrowed device, but CHAPPiE (the movie) only really does anything different, and has any spark of wonder and the fantastic (or even ingenuity) in those sections. That, and in the stunt-casting of the South African rap duo Die Antwoord as themselves (think of it in the same light as casting Prince, The Beatles, or Eminem to play fantasy versions of their personas) are the only aspects where CHAPPiE isn't terribly derivative, and becomes something more than the ol' Sci-Fi zap-'em-up with Rock'em Sock'em Robots, and becomes a sort of sweetly reversed "Frankenstein," with a conclusion that says "what matters lasts."
But, it's a lot of torture getting there.
* Or it's "conspiracy theory" variant: "If we can fool the world into thinking we went to the Moon, why can't we mass-produce tin-foil hats for the Masses?"
And yes, I am watching you while you're reading this.
And so are they.
** This puts him at odds...and odd kinship...with Deon, who also wants things "just so" as he defines it, and explodes when they're altered, to the point where he has enough and buys a gun. The one character who "goes with the flow" is Yo-landie.