Time for another trailer analysis, which means plenty of wild speculations about an upcoming movie based on a few minutes of footage which was taken out of context ahead!
directed by: Neil Blomkamp
starring: Dev Patel, Hugh Jackman, Sigourney Weaver, Sharlto Copley (mo-cap)
After being kidnapped by two criminals during birth, Chappie becomes the adopted son in a strange and dysfunctional family. Chappie is preternaturally gifted, one of a kind, a prodigy. He also happens to be a robot. (imdb)
Chappie, an experimental robot built and designed to learn and feel, is kidnapped by local gangsters for their own nefarious gains. (wikipedia)
Well, where to start? First, the good things: The effects look like they are of top-shelf quality, there is not much to criticize on that level. A little more worrying is the unoriginal look of the robots, they look a bit too much like “first draft” designs. I am not sure about the “trashy” aesthetic of the production either, but more on that later.
Now to the more serious part- what in hell happened to Neil Blomkamp’s career? Has he become the “M. Night Shyamlan of SF”, a one-trick pony whose first movie will remain the only decent one in his filmography?
Which would be sad, because I liked District 9 (2009) a lot and thought it was amazing how Blomkamp turned a blatantly literal parable into such a powerful, gut-wrenching movie, which offers some of the best SF-action in years and top-notch effects and designs to boot. A few years later though, his sophomore effort Elysium (2013) was released and despite an appealing setting and an increased budget, it turned out to be a major letdown. Every element that worked in favour of District 9 suddenly proved to be an impediment in the case of Elysium. The sincere simplistic approach came over as naive or even idiotic this time and the action scenes became a distraction from the plot instead of moving it forward. Not to speak of massive plot holes and some cringe-worthy OTT acting escapades.
Unfortunately, Chappie looks like just more of the same. Let’s hope Blomkamp embraced the obvious idiocy on display and put overblown ambitions of “social criticism” aside, because then there is a tiny chance left we could get a reasonably entertaining movie.
0:03: “… the planet’s first robotic police units…” the voice-over tells us, giving us two movie deja vus at once, evoking associations of RoboCop while showing us a robot factory very reminiscent of that one in Elysium.
0:04: A scene of the “Robot Force” in action, as they are dispatched from a very mundane police helicopter. It probably looks a little less badass as it was obviously intended.
0:09: Interesting detail: The robots seem to co-operate with human police forces. Naturally they also talk with emotionless, clanging voices.
Around 0:11: Introduction of Hugh Jackman in his first turn as a movie villain (if you don’t count his ambiguous role in The Prestige) named “Vincent Moore”, a grumpy ex-soldier who is suspicious of the use of AI in the defense industry, as it is “unpredictable”. Funny how this particular archetype of a technology sceptic is alternately on the good or bad side in movies.
But his villainous agenda is already phoned in before he said a word anyway, as he talks in his original Aussie dialect and sports an outrageous mullet. Never go full Outback.
0:18: First shot of Dev Patel as young brilliant AI engineer “Deon Wilson” who wants to create a self-aware robot. His pathetic attempts to distract from the fact that he was the lead The Last Airbender ( a Night M. Shyamalan movie by the way- sic!) by wearing glasses and sporting something that resembles a beard as a disguise, are futile.
Starting with 0:32: Jackman/Vincent presents his alternative to the automated policemen, a giant, remote-controlled robot that is basically a tank on two legs, but it gets rejected by committee with the words “(…)it’s expensive, it’s big, it’s ugly.” This is also the very exact moment when Paul Verhoeven calls his lawyer.
0:34: A better look at the evil robot.
0:37: A police robot holding a regular rifle without any futuristic enhancements. This is very much in line with Blomkamp’s “Sci-low-Fi” approach, which is expressed by a combination of (retro-) futuristic and contemporary elements. At this point I wonder how much sense this style makes in the context in the story or if it still feels relevant and fresh anymore.
0:39: Hugh Jackman -that mullet!- phoning with- Sigourney Weaver (no official character name)! She advises him to lay down his competing robot project. Since Paul (2011) and Cabin in the Woods (2012), ole Ripley is the unofficial queen of cameos in genre movies.
0:44: An allusion to the upcoming “awakening” of “Chappie”, who shows first signs of a developing self-awareness.
0:55: … and with hitting the “Y” on the keyboard, Chappie awakens and behaves like a rabbit in the headlights, thereby signalling a vulnerable, childlike soul. By the way, Chappie is “mo-capped” by frequent Blomkamp collaborator Sharlto Copley, which finally turns him into the South African director’s own Andy Serkis.
0:55: And who can blame Chappie for being afraid when the first person he perceives with his newly won self is a slightly creepy, Smurfette-voiced and black-eyed albino girl who sports the second worst hairdo of the movie? Actually the girl is played by Yolandi Visser (character name: Yo-Landi Visser. Yeah.), who is not a trained actress but a member of the trashy South African “rap rave” group Die Antwoord (“The Answer”).
1:10: After a few cheesy, in their treacliness diabetes-inducing moments of Chappie learning social and intellectual skills by reading children’s books, we get to witness a moment when he imitates Prince Adam pulling his sword and turning into He-Man in the animated Masters of the Universe TV-series. “Anything you want to do in your life, you can do“, the voiceover tells us to make sure we really, really get the message. If that’s not inspirational, what is?
1:16: Chappie drawing in super-fast mode. The Short Circuit (1986) comparisons that have been circling the web since the official plot description was released, are now officially confirmed.
Worst moment of the trailer at 1:20! “What in the name of the lord…” says the villain, while spying on the good guys with a binocular as he is clumsily hiding behind a wall only a few feet away. We are now leaving the Short Circuit comparisons behind and approach the dangerous shunned realms of Scooby-Doo.
1:22: A look at the less appealing parts of Johannesburg, which we already learned to know from Blomkamp’s preceding works.
1:32: “Destroy that robot.” All of a sudden, Ripley is on Wolverine’s side. As she seems to be some kind of CEO and the film is a SONY production, I assume that Jackman presented her some really convincing slides.
1:34: Killer robot gears into action! Apparently he is also able to fly. Also the moment when Hideo Kojima starts considering to call his lawyer.
1:49: …but the chaotic motley crew of lovable misfits steps up to defend Chappie. My guess about the plot: After Chappie is abducted by criminals (see official synopsis at the top), genius engineer Dev Patel who worked in the robot factory, tracks them down and can convince them to let him test his experimental “self-awareness program” on Chappie, which he was not allowed to do by the officials. Subsequently, Chappie gets self-aware, everybody loves him, the criminals (who were forced into their position by social inequality) forget about their original nefarious plans and they form a “family”, blah, blah, etc. followed by showdown with the semi-fascist antagonists.
1:50: “You must fight!” Slowly transforming into some kind of “Mr. Robo-T” due to some added extra-bling, Chappie has to endure motivational White trash- slogans. On the left we can see Mr. Watkin Tudor Jones aka “Ninja”, also part of the formation Die Antwoord.
…followed by some promising glimpses of the action scenes.
1:55: Deactivation of the droid army… I mean robot force by Jackman.
1:57:…thereby creating uprisings and chaos, which he will use to justify the use of his own robot.
2:03: Mano-a-mano fight between Chappie and Evil Robot.
2:04: Jackman in full “Wolverine lumberjack”-mode sawing off the arm of a robot. Is it Chappie?
2:06: Chappie gets bullied with Molotov cocktails. When will people stop being so mean towards things they don’t understand?
2:13: A fist bump signalizes the completion of Chappie’s character arc of becoming a creature equal to humans, as it is the biggest sociocultural achievement of the Western hemisphere.
2:14: A quiet moment of contemplation…
2:17: Followed by some gratuitous violence! Yee-haw!
I honestly don’t know. As I mentioned above, the film could work if it is intended as kid’s entertainment and embraces its silliness, giving us a better-directed and -plotted alternative to the abysmal Transformer movies. But too much about this trailer seems to be too dark and gritty for an infant audience while the grown ups could be put off by the childish elements. It’s hard to imagine a movie like this can make a lot of bank in a movie year stacked with blockbusters like 2015, not even considering that SF movies outside the established Star Wars and Star Trek brands have a hard stand nowadays.
In the end, Jackman’s mullet alone cannot carry a movie, no matter how entertaining it is to look at.