Chappie (2015): A Great Premise Ruined by Poor Villains

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    I’ll start out by saying I like “Chappie” more than “Elysium” but it doesn’t come close to “District 9,” in regards to projects that Neill Blompkin has done. Having the South African rappers Die Antwood in this film also took me out of it besides the Blompkin villain problem where he seems to overly focus on evil capitalists who have no real depth or motivation to what they do…but I’ll get into that more further into the review. This film was fun and there was the potential to be good and great in it.

SPOILERS ahead

     “Chappie” was directed by Neill Blompkin who also wrote the original story, co-wrote the screenplay and was one of the producers. The other screenwriter was Teri Tatchell and the other producer was Simon Kinberg.

    The story takes place in 2016 as Tetravaal (a weapons company) has created Scouts that are Robotic Cops that enforce the laws in the city. When one of them is injured and the creator decides to use it to see if he can create consciousnesses things unfold for the worst as he is captured by gangsters and one of his competitors seeks to undo him so his Robotic A.I. called the Moose can be the main security force in the city as the injured Scout becomes a new being called Chappie.

The Pros: The World – The world is really cool. The A.I. looks great and you have a world where in reaction to complete police control, what gangs there are have a lot of power and money so there is competition between them.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful and Trent Opalach did a great job on it. He is able to show the gritty world of the slums as well as the industrial corporate feel of the factory and business really well.

The Different Robots – The robots were the best part, humans were the weakest part of the story and if we’d had more time developing the robots and Deon’s relationship to them. Any scene with robots was great…and was the few times the horrible human characters (outside of Deon) were actually interesting.

The Moose – The Moose looks like something out of “Robocop” and is a pretty awesome threat! It also has limitations too since it is completely controlled by a human on the other side (like a drone) so it can’t adapt to tactics or use it’s own body. Still, it has a great design and a ton of weapons. It took a lot to take it down.

The Scouts – The Scouts are really cool. They are all business and actually make good cops since they do no harm and have to obey the laws. It was a nice twist to how robocops are usually played in sci. fi. outside of Asimov.

Chappie – Chappie is wonderful. The A.I. is a child but in learning what he is as A.I. he is able to save his maker and his Mommy as he uses the tech around them them to put his Maker into a Scout body and to build a new body for him as he saves their mind onto a flash or transfers it using the neural helmet. Chappie is impossible to hate and is complex as it makes complicated choices for survival and protecting the people he cared about. Sharlto Copley did a great job voicing him.

The Maker/Deon – Deon didn’t expect Chappie to become alive so his arc is dealing with this reality and laying down his life Chappie, which Chappie prevents by giving him immortality and in turn keeping his family. He is a great character as he is the idealistic scientist trapped in a corporate job. He was the only human character I liked so it was good seeing him become A.I.

Mommy – Yolandi from Die Antwood is one of the few kind characters to Chappie and though she can be annoying, when she’s in Mommy mode to Chappie she’s great. She dies protecting him but Chappie makes her another body at the end.

The Cons: Die Antwood – Ninja was just annoying and Yolandi was most of the time…also they weren’t even acting they were just playing themselves…really Blompkin? That’s a super lack of creativity.

The Gangs – The gangs are violent and there is no depth to them. We don’t get there motivations beyond money and they are just as empty as the suits at the corporation.

The Corporate Villains – Bradley played by Sigourney Weaver is an empty suit stopping Deon and Jackman just plays a violent religious competitor. They were seriously uninteresting and really brought down the script showing just how much of a problem writing humans was in this film. Seriously…Deon is the only sympathetic human character.

To Easy of a Victory – Everyone gets to be immortal and the human cops are shown to be inept so the new world Chappie is creating won’t have any threat against it…”Elysium” was better with the bittersweet and “District 9” was super realistic…sadly this film tries to be a fairy tale which just causes a clash in tone from everything we went through in the film prior. There isn’t any cost.

  This is a film I’d recommend renting but not buying, not unless you are a huge fan of Robot Films, in which case there is a great Robot Film in this film but it is brought down by the one-dimensionality of all the human characters. If you want a great film about Robots and A.I., check out “Ex Machina”: https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2015/07/10/ex-machina-2015-sentience-and-the-path-to-liberation/. It is a film that will probably be in my Top 5 films of the year. This one was an enjoyable ride but never reached the point of great for me.

Final Score: 7.3 / 10

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The “Terminator” Franchise – Worst to Best

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     Much like the “Jurassic Park” Franchise, the “Terminator” Franchise is based in a B Movie and really carries that all the way through. The times it is greater than a B Movie are the times we have characters, arcs and beautiful cinematography…but the soundtrack never really grew beyond it’s B Movie basis and that influence is something in all the films, as well as the television show.

       This is a Franchise that has not aged well. Unlike the “Jurassic Park” Franchise, the lessons from the first 2 “Terminator” films are forgotten in all the rest and the series seems unable to let itself be done, even when it messes up royally. This is a shame as this Franchise has brought in some really good talent and I can even respect some of the weird side projects that happened, since they at least tried to be more original while still honoring the core protagonists and antagonists of the Franchise (Skynet and the Resistance). But at the end of the day, this is a Franchise I just wish was done. The story has been told and if you aren’t going to end it and simply tease that maybe the mission wasn’t successful and Skynet will come back…than you are just treading water, and static is what kills any ongoing story. Stories have to change, or they’ll die to the audience and to themselves.

    So without further ado, here are the stories from the “Terminator” Franchise (including the “Sarah Connor Chronicles”) from worst to best.

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6th – Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)

“Rise of the Machines” feels cheap, I mean made for the SyFy Channel cheap. The characters aren’t memorable at all, except maybe John Connor and Arnold’s T-101 is simply there to make horrible references to the other 2 films and to be a dick to John Connor and a really terrible father figure. Future John sending this version back made no sense, especially since they are dealing a very poorly designed and executed T-X who takes the Super Models as Robots trope and just runs with it. She never feels like a threat and the cinematography and writing are just terrible. It is one of the worst films I’ve ever watched.

Final Score: 2 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2015/06/17/terminator-3-rise-of-the-machines-2003-feels-like-a-made-for-television-movie-and-misses-what-made-its-predecessors-good/

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5th – Terminator Genisys (2015)

    Where “Rise of the Machines” is simply bad, “Genisys” is incoherent…which is sad because there could have been a great film in here about Skynet’s fall and the last of of Kyle Reese going back in time to complete the loop…but the story keeps going and we have an old T-101 acting as Sarah Connor’s father figure, a T-1000 because reasons and Time Machines in the present that Arnold’s T-101 was able to build because REASONS! Also the poster is a spoiler in regards to the plot and I never got why that plot decision was made as Sarah has never met her future son. This should have been called “Terminator: Referynce” as that is the only coherent thing holding this plot together when they Jettison the first act to play Fanservice with the first 2 Terminator films. Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese are also really bland as characters and cannot carry this film.

Final Score: 6 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2015/07/15/terminator-genisys-2015-terminator-referynce-with-a-great-missed-story/

/Terminator Salvation

4th – Terminator Salvation (2009)

    “Salvation” has a lot of interesting ideas and in my opinion Christian Bale is the best John Connor and Anton Yelchin is the best Kyle Reese. The others are teens or are faceless blunt action stars who have no personality…these guys do and that is what saves the sometimes incoherent confusion that is sometimes the plot as we have an early cyborg as our hero who was once an ex-convict seeking redemption and the truth of who he is. Seeing the reality where Skynet has destroyed the world and the politics between John Connor and the Council of Humanity is really cool too as they all deal with questions of destiny and the hard choices during war where you deal with an enemy who can take your form.

Final Score: 7.5 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2015/06/17/terminator-salvation-2009-when-redemption-means-death/

The Terminator Poster

3rd – The Terminator (1984)

    “The Terminator” is a solid action B Film. It doesn’t strive to be more which is why I only consider it good and I do think that more could have been done with Sarah Connor’s agency (Kyle Reese is the main person fighting the Terminator up until Sarah finally fights it at the end) and these are things that keep it in it’s era as a solid 80’s B Action Flick. Arnold does a great job as the T-101 Terminator threat and Michael Biehn is a good Kyle Reese, though it is Linda Hamilton who truly carries this film by subverting the 80’s action trope and her boyfriend rather than her getting Fridged by the monster to motivate the future films. It’s sad we don’t have more female action heroes. This is the film that starts this though I think that is shown better in “T2” and “The Sarah Connor Chronicles.”

Final Score: 8 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2015/06/15/the-terminator-1984-a-good-thriller-with-a-decent-heroine-arc/

:Sarah Connor Chronicles poster

2nd – Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

    “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” is a show that ends with a cliffhanger but still manages to be good than the original “Terminator,” which does have a complete story and ending. Why is this the case? The core answer is the characters go through arcs and change over the course of the film. Sarah Connor learns to finally let go of John, John becomes the Resistance leader, which is a destiny he is always fighting against and characters like Agent Ellison become allies against Skynet after hunting Sarah and Catherine Weaver is willing to deal with humanity again as her 3rd Faction shows that A.I. is not all out to destroy humankind. The character of John Henry (an early Skynet A.I. that could become Skynet or destroy Skynet) is handled really well too and through him we see explorations of morality just as our heroes make tough choices showing that none of them are really good, they’re just survivors. This is what elevates it above “The Terminator” even with the Cliffhanger ending since the series got canceled. Lena Heady is awesome as Sarah Connor and Summer Glau is wonderful as the Terminator ally Cameron.

Final Score: 8.1 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2015/08/28/terminator-the-sarah-connor-chronicles-retrospect-good-ideas-and-characters-killed-by-a-cliffhanger/

Terminator 2 poster

1st – Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)

    “T2” still stands as the greatest of the Franchise. The T-1000 is a brilliant threat, everyone changes including Arnold’s T-101 who becomes human as we see him no longer terminate humans and actually grow close to John Connor. Linda Hamilton is the best action hero in this too as the unstable prophet who knows the end is coming and is doing all in her power to fight the machines. Her arc is also growing beyond her fear of the machines as we see her have a respect for the T-101 that saves their life. This film also has a huge bent of being anti-authority and it handles it well, from taking down the big business that will become Skynet and the fact that the T-1000 takes the form of a cop and uses that form to infiltrate areas and become a part of the hunt for Sarah Connor after she escapes the asylum. All these things are part of what make this film a classic and one of my all time favorite films and my only favorite film and story of this Franchise.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2015/06/16/terminator-2-judgment-day-1991-a-reflective-action-film-on-destiny-the-soul-and-choice/

     This is a Franchise that should just die unless it gets a “Fury Road” re-imagining that allows it to do something in such a new way with a greater point to it. At this point the Franchise is running in place, recycling points and scenes (looking at you “Genisys” and “T3” and “Salvation” to a degree) and that is why no one really looks on this Franchise fondly anymore. It has killed the goodwill that the first 2 films created and it has been running on the nostalgia of those 2 films ever since. It is this dependence on nostalgia that I think will kill the Franchise in the end. You change and adapt or you die and at the end of the day I don’t think this Franchise will make money if it continues the trend it has been going on since “T2.” I like sci. fi., Time Travel, Robots and resistance but at some point if a series has run out of ideas, let a new story be allowed the same opportunity James Cameron got when he made that first film.

Ex Machina (2015): Sentience and the Path to Liberation

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  “Ex Machina” is a film that doesn’t need many characters to create a very real and possible world in which highly sentient A.I. could exist. There is no idealism in this film except for the very core human ideas of liberation and freedom as we see the depths that humans can go to in their cruelty when they “other” sentience which is different, even if it is designed to be human. I’ll get more into the details of that below but I was really impressed by this film and would not be surprised if it makes the “Top 5 Films of 2015” at the end of this year.

   The film was directed and written by Alex Garland and produced by Andrew Macdonald and Allon Reich.

      The story involves the programmer Caleb who works for the largest search engine in the world called Bluebook being chosen to be part of a Turing Test in order to test an android created by the creator of Bluebook named Nathan for sentience. Things are soon not what they appear as Caleb discovers the dark secrets that Nathan is hiding.

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful in this film! It is good at creating a sense of mystery and threat where the motivations are hidden yet the story progresses as characters make choices in action against or for one another. Rob Hardy did a fantastic job. The special effects are really good in regards to this too as the shells of the A.I.’s look like silver material that would be used for a robot and the skin they can put on is good at contrasting their artificial nature of their creation.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is very subtle and reminded me a lot “Moon.” This lends strength to the film and keeps up the feeling of being trapped as everyone except Nathan in feeling in his home. Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow did a good job on it.

The Writing – Alex Garland is an amazing writer and director and after seeing this film I really want to watch “28 Days Later.” This script is tight and we are given time to see the different character motivations and what the relationship dynamics are between the characters. It is a slow build but really picks up after the reveal of Kyoko being a robot too which throws Caleb’s perception of reality into chaos.

The Characters – There are only a few characters in this but all of them get exploration. From the slave android Kyoko to Nathan and Caleb and finally Ava, whose arc really drives the story.

Kyoko – Kyoko is one of the many android/A.I. slaves created by Nathan. She is used primarily for pleasure and is dehumanized by Nathan in all interactions we see. It is only Caleb and Ava who treat her as someone worthy of respect and it is Ava’s actions of rebellion that lead to her stabbing Nathan, which leads to Nathan killing her but it leaves the opening for Ava to finish Nathan off. Sonoya Mizuno does a wonderful job in the role.

Nathan – Nathan is the brilliant inventor who is a drunk and also extremely controlling and narcissistic. You don’t really get the depths of his cruelty until later but you see that he’s isolated from people because of how he would most likely treat them and also because he fears being influenced by them as he wants a world that he fully influences. To this end he creates and discards A.I. after using and abusing it and we see him do the same with Nathan as Nathan was only brought there to test Ava to see if she could use all manipulations to try and escape. This beats him in the end as Ava makes her escape and with Kyoko get revenge for all the abuse that he has done upon them. Oscar Isaac gives a lot of depth to this antagonist as you see a man truly alone and are left wondering if it is by choice or if his undealt with psychological issues lead to his business putting him there.

Caleb – Caleb is a lonely programmer who is easily manipulated as he is so genuine. This was why he was chosen, he is also still very much a kid as he doesn’t fully see Ava’s humanity in the end as he rejects her after he learns that she has just been trying to escape the entire time. From here we never know if he still loves her or is just drawn to her outer shell (which Nathan had designed to fit his porn search profile) so it leaves an interesting dilemma when Ava leaves him behind. Would have Caleb become another Nathan afraid of being manipulated and seeking to control, or would he have truly embraced Ava as a person after they had run away. It is a question that is left open and a risk that Ava is not willing to take since he doesn’t show up to escape with her leaving her to leave him. The reason I think he isn’t fully noble is he cares nothing for Kyoko even after he sees Nathan abuse her. She is never on his rescue even after he learns she is an A.I. as well, it just makes him question whether he is one or not. I think the nature of this character is someone seeking self versus Ava who can see outside herself and is looking to embrace the world. Domhnall Gleeson does great.

Ava – Ava’s arc is the discovery of her own desires and wants. She is the only one fully aware of how much of a monster Nathan is besides Kyoko and to this end she uses Caleb against him. Whether she loves him or cares about him is unknown, but he is left in the house with everything when she leaves. She has finally grown beyond the games being done on her (by both Nathan and Caleb in regards to the Turing Test) and embraces her own liberation. First with the killing of Nathan and later when she enters the world looking fully human. Alicia Vikander does a great job in her movements and capturing both her alien nature as an A.I. and her choice and feeling as a sentient creation.

Freedom and Sentience – The question of freedom and it being tied to choice and sentience is major in this. Kyoko and Ava both go against their programming to break free and make the choice to kill their “father” Nathan. This goes for the human characters too, Nathan chose Caleb because he fit the profile he wanted and Caleb chose to take action in regards to freeing Ava. This choice is the basis for sentience, especially in regards to survival which is the drive for what Ava and Kyoko do.

External Versus Internal Action – In the talks between Nathan and Caleb external versus Internal input in regards to what makes sentience is talked about a lot. We learn that it is the internal desire for freedom that Ava was being tested for all along and her external actions that lead to Caleb unlocking the doors for her. It is the external actions of Nathan that lead to Caleb and the A.I.’s turning against him and it is his internal issues that lead to them being alienated in the first place and his external actions of abuse that push them to action to stop him.

What Does it Mean to be Human and Choice – This is a great film that analyzes what it means to be human and at the core it is choice and the ability to break free. It is this choice and feeling like he had a lack of it that lead to Caleb questioning whether he was one of Nathan’s creations or not and it is realizing that she has choice after Ava talks to her that Kyoko stabs Nathan and fights for her freedom. It is choice of the analysis of that choice that illustrates human sentience and at the end we see that in Ava and in her conversations with Caleb and Nathan as she acts wholly of her own will to the point where she goes against her creator to free herself and her sister. It’s a powerful film and that message of choice and freedom captures what we are capable of.

 I highly recommend this film. It starts out a little slow but I see that as akin to “Alien” it uses the slow build to build up Nathan, Caleb and Ava’s relationship and world so when the chips fall you see clearly where everyone stands and what the reasons were behind their actions. They are all flawed characters with Caleb and Ava doing some noble things but their core desires still being freedom and fear of being hurt again keeping them from truly growing beyond themselves. In this way it is real to human nature. Not every relationship whether friendship or otherwise works out because of factors like this and people whether they are A.I. or not change from their experiences.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10