Yesterday, I brought myself to finally watch Chappie.
I've delayed the day for long enough because the movie in question deals with the subject of artificial intelligence. As an AI geek, I couldn't miss the opportunity to witness someone else's vision of how an AI can operate in real world. Spoiled by the fantastic AI introspection from Person of Interest, I expected something far more in-depth and exciting - which, I admit, is my own fault. Still, neither the fact that artificial consciousness compiled in seconds into a single .DAT file (and apparently, we should believe that South Africa is so underdeveloped that they still use 90s-style interfaces) nor that the supposed AI engineering expert (who crafted said consciousness on this personal computer, at home) believes that he created "a real AI" (the fact that he's talking to an educated engineer doesn't help his credibility: your Google Voice Search is a real AI as well, just Narrow) broke my suspension of disbelief, because I was naively hoping for it to pay off at the end.
It was interesting to see Die Antwoord in the movie, given how it's set in Johannesburg, the city of origin of the band. I thought of it first as an interesting twist: using Ninja and Yolandi as alternative-reality criminals. What a good use of cameo! Then... they stuck for the rest of the movie.
I suppose I understand the intention - to highlight the life in South Africa using real South Africans. I would understand it far better if it was a cameo, not a full-length appearance. Ninja and Yolandi are decent actors - for people who spends most of their time in another artistic venue, that is - but they don't make good characters... like most of the movie's.
"Poorly-written" is, perhaps, the best description of the movie - and as meaningful as the plot. Around the middle of the movie Idiot Balls start getting thrown around like it's a multi-team volleyball match, and any semblence of reasonable activity ceases to exist on screen. I can't bring up specific points at which the plot fails, because I can barely remember the plot itself: it was too mind-numbingly simple, as fits for a popular movie.
Characters are bland and uninteresting in general. Some, like Moore (Hugh Jackman) and Americano (the Spaniard third member of the gang), have a few interesting traits sprinkled lightly over the whole length of their performance. Moore carrying a gun at work, his buff walk and him doing the cross gesture twice in the movie give a lot to the character (especially the latter, because it's very rare to see), and Americano's overall cool and cheerful mood dilute the overly serious and affectionate performances of Ninja and Yolandi, respectively. Still, they feel empty, only making their first steps towards the third dimension - and it feels like if they did step into the new territory, they'd have no place in the movie.
I feel that, in general, Neill Blomkamp reached for something he couldn't possibly express well on his own and/or in a single movie. His movies - District 9, Chappie - feel like short stories overextended rather than books compressed: very simple - overly simple, even - with nothing to latch onto mentally and emotionally. The premises of those movies sound very good - "Aliens in the slums of South Africa!", "AGI in the police force of South Africa!" - and based solely on those, I'd watch the movies with certainty. Yet, as soon as it gets to action, it's clear that the action relies heavily on special effects and CGI specifically, which is never a good mark on the story.
Of particular scrutiny deserve the idiotic claim of the main character, an AI engineer, that because we don't know what consciousness is, we can't transfer it in any way... while talking to a robot for whom he wrote artificial consciousness in the very beginning of the movie - the file is even named CONSCIOUSNESS.DAT!
[SPOILER ALERT for the whole paragraph] It then becomes Chappie's job, as a holder of said consciousness, to discover what consciousness is (without telling the audience, because, I presume, the writers don't know it either or, somehow, the mystery of our being is more important), and through doing so, achieve consciousness transfer, which ends up saving both him, his Maker and his Mommy... by making the Maker a robot like himself and the Mommy - into a new, gynoid model produced at the factory they ought to have zero access to by this point.
It feels like the second half of the movie was written on a knee somewhere underground because the writers were late for work on the last day of designated scriptwriting period. The ending suffers from it particularly, since it seems that the story has been accumulating clichés throughout the plot and, by the end, couldn't hold them any longer in bay, so they flushed away, spreading all over the action. It feels like the writers had no idea how to finish the story, so they went for a meaningless and far too open conclusion that barely answers any of the questions (even if we consider the interviews in the beginning), if it ever does.
The CGI is great, though. Chappie's model is very believeable.
P.S. If you're interested in the topics Tim Urban's article on Wait But Why touches, I recommend you also read a reply to it from another blog, which is supposed to cover things Tim got and put down in ways too simple or incorrect.