Chappie – Not what the critics wanted but ‘Zef so fresh’*

*Warning: Review contains minor spoilers*

Chappie is director Neil Blomkamps’ third offering and it has come under some heavy criticism from critics who are angry it wasn’t the movie they wanted it to be. Well tough luck, it’s better than the movie you wanted it to be. The majority of reviewers seemed to want Chappie to delve into the arguments surrounding artificial intelligence. Is it wrong for scientists and engineers to play God? Or should it be pushed to its limits in the aid of creation and progress? Chappie certainly hints at these arguments throughout but it isn’t really what the movie is about. Thank goodness, we’ve seen enough of those moral balancing acts. Time for something different.

The basic outline of the plot is as follows: Johannesburg is a crime epicentre which is now being policed by AI robots, known as Scouts. They’re doing quite well in reducing crime but Vincent Moore, played by Hugh Jackman, is unhappy his human controlled behemoth The Moose isn’t being utilised ahead of these ‘Godless’ creatures. The creator of the droids Deon, played by Dev Patel, wants to push his work further and create a sentient robot that can think and feel like a human. Meanwhile Die Antwoord, basically playing themselves, have Deon in their sights as someone who can help them get free of a particularly nasty gangster who will kill them if they fail to pay his debt. Enter Chappie, a scout commissioned for destruction that Deon steals and makes conscious, but not before being kidnapped by Ninja, Yolandi, and Amerika. Unpredictable events ensue.

Chappie also doesn’t really qualify as a science fiction film either, although of course it will fall in this genre. Chappie, the main character, is portrayed as a human rather than the physical robot he actually is. Chappie is about a boy being pulled in three different directions. His ‘mummy’ (Yolandi) just wants to love him like any mother loves their child. The creator (Deon) wants Chappie to maximise his potential and his ‘daddy’ (Ninja) wants him to assist in a heist. Being only days old, this is all very complicated for Chappie, as smart as he is. He makes promises he doesn’t fully understand and tries his best to please everyone. All the while he is discovering the joyous highs of what life has to offer (painting, literature, dogs), as well as the horrifying lows (violence, dishonesty, death). Eventually he must learn for himself what is right and what he should do.

Only the heartless will fail to be moved by Chappie’s struggles, or amused by his transition into a streetwise gangsta. “Chappie has bling.” There are some truly heart touching moments, such as when Chappie is attacked by a gang of youths despite his confused pleas for them to stop and when Yolandi is reading him Black Sheep (perhaps a metaphor for the movie as a whole in addition to Chappie).

The casting of the film is interesting to say the least and there are some definite flaws here. Sigourney Weaver’s character is so boring and pointless she may as well not exist. There’s really nothing to say about her. Hugh Jackman’s villain is more of a shell than a fully fleshed out character. His extreme rage or psychopathic nature is not explained and his Australian idiosyncrasies are a little overdone. He doesn’t fit quite right and this lets the film down. What’s surprising is that Die Antwoord aren’t horrible as actors or characters. At times they are shaky but for the most part they’re enjoyable viewing, especially Yolandi who is so taken by Chappie she becomes more conflicted than we might have expected. Ninja is not particularly likeable for most of the movie but we learn to understand him and he does redeem himself in the latter stages. One scene specifically showcases his humane qualities. Chappie is inspecting a dog that has been killed in a gambling ring. Ninja looks upon the animal with what seems like regret and sympathy despite his previously violent tempers and dismissive attitude. He remarks; ‘It’s dead Chappie. Life is hard; you have to be tough to survive.’ He points to a dog still living. ‘Do you want to be this dog or that dog?’ We see here Ninja is not inherently evil but he does what he needs to do to survive. Later we see how deeply he cares for Chappie and Yolandi. He even aids Deon, who he openly showed derision towards earlier. Sharlto Copley does a great job as Chappie, aided of course by a fantastic effects team. Dev Patel is acceptably earnest and ambitious as a man who truly cares about his creation.

Die Antwoord get plenty of free publicity and perhaps they should. They’re a major reason this film looks so good, with their colourful self-styled outfits and weapons along with their graffiti riddled place of residence. Their music makes up probably half the score and adds to the film’s offbeat tone. Chappie is amazing to watch, especially after he has been remodelled by his new family.

All in all the film takes an unexpected approach which generally works. The comic relief throughout the middle act is welcome and not too over the top. The plight of Chappie struggling to cope with life is engaging and touching. The action sequences are well executed and entertaining. Jackman and Weaver are weak links through no fault of their own and some elements are not afforded the effort and explanation they need. Chappie isn’t a masterpiece but it’s nowhere near as bad as the critics want you to think it is.

Recommendation: See it before it leaves theatres.

*Enter The Ninja – Die Antwoord

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Plot Points

‘This fucking heatwave.’

Sweat itches David’s beard,

wished he’d had a shave.

Black spider kicks up dust,

dropping from his leathered arm

to crack earth’s fragile crust.

But in God we trust.

*

Only the hardy remain

but changed just the same,

withered and bowed

like  poorly assembled skeletons.

Their roots searching deeper

and deeper all the time

against a villain-less crime.

*

The heifer lays breathing distress,

overcome by weakness.

Side by side they stand looking down

thinking ‘there’s one less’.

David moves forward,

lucerne in his hand but his father stops him.

No argument, it was only ever a whim.

*

Mother lying in hospital

breathing from one-half lung.

Smoke still blown into his face

by his best mates.

Her colour runs away

like dye in the laundry.

A shame, she’s not long left her forties.

*

Family photos grown dusty

on a hospital bedside table.

(Condition in decline but stable).

A fraction of her life

held in recollections.

The rest, the parts she keeps to herself,

forever restricted sections.

*

Daughter bouncing up and down

on the bed,

endlessly forgetting the last thing she said.

All her books have a happy end

where rules of reality bend, and break.

Sees the cattle’s ribs, tells her daddy

sees the dogs ribs, tells her daddy they’re hungry.

*

Consoles himself,

knows they’re all in it together

holding on as tight as each other.

Natural disaster, a great leveller.

Sees a wombat dead on the road,

wheel marks over its spine.

‘Why can’t people take their time?’

*

A baby and a dog alone in a car

while the mercury surges

and a man shops,

his thoughts absent of how they are.

Glass crystal scatters

from a rock, solid blow.

Prisoners freed, muscles drained, moving slow.

*

White shirt,

blue tie,

black pants.

A slight paunch

only the arrogant possess.

‘What the fuck are you doing with my child?’

As rainclouds join the sky, come to bless.

*

David closes his eyes but he may as well be looking directly at the sun. His vision swims with red as rage fires out into every nerve ending. A ringing starts up in his ears, blocking all other noise out. He opens his eyes and hits the man in the jaw, knocking him down. As the man tries to rise David grabs his shirt and punches him again, breaking his nose in a burst of blood. The man is helpless and David hits him again. He could kill him. He wants to. He wants to keep hitting and hammering away until the man’s body is mush, until his soul is gone. The man’s very existence is tearing at the fabric which keeps David believing everything is going to be okay. He is dragged off before he can do too much damage. Although three fury-filled hits have been enough to leave the man in a mess. Nose squashed, lips split, darkening eyes, a broken jaw to round it out. Whether it was because of the commotion or he was still feeling ill, the baby boy is crying again and David can’t help thinking, looking at screwed-up anguished eyes, he’s made a terrible mistake.

Words Can’t Express

When the doctor said ‘cancer’

I immediately stopped smoking.

Went home, opened the fridge

but the salad was all gone.

The blueberries were there though, my very own superfood.

I ate two whole punnets

and felt my kidneys grow back.

 

Months Later.

Took a wheelbarrow out to the shed,

put everything I had in it.

Rolled it down the hill to your house,

said it’s all yours now.

You replied I wasn’t the one who was sick.

‘Yeah but I told her

to take me with her

if she was never coming back’.

 

Years Later.

My liver couldn’t withstand all the stuff

I drowned it in over the years

so now my guts are fermenting,

every breath I exhale

is poisonous and every one I breathe in

isn’t much better because the world has gone to shit.

 

Present Day.

I put my headphones on

as I stride toward the double doors.

No expression on my face as I push through them

apart from the strain in my eyes.

I go searching for my sister,

where they have her hooked up to a machine they say is keeping her alive.

but I’m not so sure.

Doctor asks me a question:

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………

‘Why would I do that for?’

I’m told she can’t beat this,

she’ll be gone one way or the other.

Gone forever and I’d be left tied up like a dog on a post.

Move to the coast, get some clean living,

let the sun dry the tears

before they run down my face.

Forget how good all the bad things taste

and how bad all the good things are missed.

Expected Shocks

Eggs cr ack in-two

feathered faces.

Eyes open

for the very first time.

beaks split ting,

taste sharp air.

Nights still get cold,

wind still whistles

through open windows.

Insects popping in fire,

in flame

to pierce ears

with the worst of inevitable thoughts.

On cliff edge

death is always tangible.

A resting crocodile,

a loaded spring

flowing smoothly

through liquid glass.

Role playing nose-twitching gazelle

while tiger creeps,

launches-

misses you.

Weather balloons float by,

decide it’s safer to land.

Vast empty sky

speaks knowledgably

of kindness.

Its gentle way,

permanent presence, grandfatherly.

One more step,

take one more step

and you never have to hear the phone ring.

No one sees the water

fall

momentarily

varnish blue balcony rail.

Each year onwards

morbid celebration.

Candle

life

being blown

out.

People are glad

it wasn’t their family.

Tease you

for buying canned corn

(they wanted cob)

a couple hours later.

Wander away,

wonder

if you had not answered

to hear mother’s tears

wash down the line

would they still have sprung

and would oxygen

have continued to fill his lungs?

Routine

 

Splinters sat stream-lined

under the skin of my hands

from all the work

I helped my father do.

Afterwards we’d sit

sipping lemonade and beer

in our seats on the porch,

soaking swelling in jars of vinegar

as the Sunday afternoon said goodbye.

 

At night the rice boiled over,

cooked dry while the steak

stayed seared on one side.

He’d have my mother

up against the kitchen counter,

his eyes volcanic

with simmering rage and shame.

 

In my room on the calculator

sweat sailed from my brow

as I struggled to stay in touch

with the other students at school.

The sound of a slap

outside my door from somewhere

else in the house

was enough to make my jaw lock shut.

 

The corner of her lip cracked red,

my knuckles white gripping my cutlery,

his glazed eyes.

Around the kitchen table

where my brother used to sit.

And none of us was able

to quite understand where he went.

So there was nothing else to do

but wait until the next day

when the sun was there again

and my dogs wagging tail would tell me

if anything, he at least was okay.