As an unabashed fan of Neill Blomkamp and most things South African, I had high hopes for this one. District 9 was a modern classic, and I adored Elysium for its limb-shattering action and unconventional use of characters. The director has been criticized for being heavy handed with social issues, but this never bothered me, particularly his methods for addressing them. The system of Apartheid is now universally condemned (though in its heyday its most powerful allies were the leadership of the US and UK), but he presented the same system in the context of aliens plunked in a crowded city, and one would be hard pressed to argue that events would not have transpired in just that way. Elysium was disliked for involving illegal immigration and wealth inequality, but why these subjects were felt to be undesirable for films is beyond me. The end gets me every time, with a reboot of the space station resulting in a wealthy society inadvertently recognizing poor people as humans. In any case, I was curious as to what Blomkamp would do with the link between humanity and technology, and how many bodies would explode in the demonstration.
As it turns out, his primary ambition with Chappie was to make movie stars out of Die Antwoord. That is the mission statement of a $50 million film. It involves a robot that is programmed to learn, and it is hijacked by Yolandi Visser and Ninja of Die Antwoord who the robot sees as parent figures. There is a plot of sorts about Hugh Jackman, perfectly cast as a sociopath dickhead attempting sell his ED-209 by disabling a robotic police force, but none of this is really important. Considering issues regarding police militarization and its drive via corporations, there are interesting ideas that are explored briefly by Chappie, then quickly abandoned to put the camera on the visionary creators of Cookie Thumper and leave it there.
All reports from the set indicated Chappie would be a mess, and it shows. Apparently Ninja was thrown off set by Blomkamp for constant verbal abuse, telling†Jackman and others how to act their scenes, and sending Sigourney Weaver dick pics. Blomkamp reportedly then rewrote his part to be of less significance, which is hilarious because the guy is in nearly every scene not involving exposition. Half the sets are decorated with spray-painted or neon signs of Die Antwoord’s music and lyrics, the soundtrack is Die Antwoord, the robot is covered with names from their albums, and lest I forget, Chappie Die Antwoord, Die Antwoord, Die Antwoord. You cannot escape them, and by the end they are heroes trying to save Chappie from something or other complete with martyr deaths that are of short duration thanks to rebirth in robot form. Ah, now the artists who brought you XPEN$IV SH1T can live forever in titanium bodies. Even Sharlto Copley, talented as he is, is given little to do other than voice a robot that serves a bit player in a music video for Die Antwoord, which by the way, Die Antwoord Die Antwoord Die Antwoord Die Antwoord.
In conclusion, Die Antwoord. The theater was empty, 7pm on a Friday, opening weekend. This will be a failure, and hopefully Blomkamp will focus less stringently on promoting his asshole friends. There are a thousand stories uniquely South African personalities and expressions that are far more interesting – one hopes they find a voice, perhaps in the work of a guy who was previously distracted by… I can’t write the name of that group anymore.