“I have a vision for a movie about a robot. It’s a mashup of Short Circuit and Robocop. It’ll be great! And to ensure that we get the young adult crowd, we’ll give it a hard R rating!! Whattayasay???”
Investors are still unconvinced and so he continues on:
“Look, I’ve got a stellar cast lined up. We’ll have Sharito Copley do the motion capture for Chappie, my buddy Dev Patel will be the scientist/creator, Yo-Landi Visser and Ninja will be the criminals you can’t help but love, Sigourney Weaver will be the clueless CEO and Wolverine himself, Hugh Jackman will be our villain!! Heck, I’ll even get Hans Zimmer to do the music It can’t miss!!! Whattayasay?????”
Of course, the movie gets greenlit. It
does sound great! Unfortunately, the reality is far removed from the vision.
Chappie depicts a world in the not too distant future where Robots are being used as the main force in augmenting the abilities of the local police to combat crime. They are called Scout Drones and are the creation of Deon Wilson (Patel). His main rival is Vincent Moore (Jackman), who has created another type of robot called MOOSE that is the mother of all overkill in modern weapons. Moose is big, has machine guns, as well as Cluster bombs.
Wackiness ensues when Deon, who is ready to test a program that will make artificial intelligence sentient, uses the new program on a Scout that is scheduled to be scrapped. Through a series of events, Vincent discovers what Deon has done and plots to use the situation to discredit Deon and gain support for his MOOSE program. Things are complicated when the now sentient robot, called CHAPPIE, winds up being “raised” by a group of criminals that want to use him to pull off one big heist. He winds up talking like the gangsters that are raising them and even emulates their body language.
Chappie excels in the integration of the motion capture work of Sharito Copley to bring the sentient robot to life. The cinematography is exceptional and creates a believable atmosphere of squalor coupled with technological achievement. The scenes where Chappie is abandoned and experiences the cruelty of man firsthand can be jarring and echoes incidents of abuse that are all too often parts of our reality.
The film breaks down with incredibly huge, gaping holes in its internal logic. Chappie has the intelligence of a newborn when he first awakens. However, without explanation, he matures mentally to a young teenager. I can accept that the AI can develop more quickly than a human, but there is no context to show how fast he learns or how he gains the knowledge to use the skills he demonstrates. He also makes an unexplained leap from the mind of a child with no experience regarding computer science, programming or computation to being able to develop a way to transfer a consciousness from one body to another.
I could ignore these potholes and chock it up to editing, however there is one major plot point upon which the movie turns, that is unforgivable. Chappie possesses a CPU that acts as a “key”. It connects him to the rest of the Scout drone network. In a particularly disturbing scene, Vincent captures Chappie and removes the key so that he can disable the network and create a situation that can only be resolved by deploying the MOOSE unit. The plan is put into effect and the network is shut down. INCLUDING CHAPPIE. HUH? He’s not connected to the network anymore so how is this possible? Later in the movie, Chappie is able to accomplish a major plot point by entering the network, BUT HE STILL DOESN’T HAVE THE KEY!
In my opinion, gaping lapses in story logic is an unforgivable sin that ruins my ability to enjoy a film.
Ultimately, Chappie is a disappointment because no matter how well intended the allegory, if you don’t follow the rules you set up in your story, your message doesn’t matter.
We’re all familiar with the James Bond tropes before the current Daniel Craig outings. The typical plot line goes something like this: There’s an over the top threat to the world and James must save us by infiltrating, seducing and fighting his way across several exotic locations before a final showdown where he barely defeats the villain and is rewarded with copious amounts of sex as credits roll. Be assured that there are plenty of quips and double entendres along the way and that there is a diabolical henchman involved possessing some skill or physical attribute that makes it seem like our hero has no chance of victory.
Kingsman: The Secret Service takes these familiar plot lines and gives it a hard R twist with its violence. It is loosely based on comic titled The Secret Service by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons. It is directed by Matthew Vaughn and stars Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Taron Egerton , Samuel L. Jackson and Sophie Cookson.
The film opens in 1997, where we see 4 men interrogating a captured terrorist. The terrorist raises his head to reveal a grenade pin in his mouth. One of the interrogators throws himself on top of the terrorist, thus saving the others. Colin Firth’s character, Harry (codename Galahad), was in charge of that mission. Harry visits his fallen friend’s wife and attempts to give her a medal in her husband’s memory. There is a phone number on the back of the medal in case she needs a favor, and to say “Oxford’s not brogues” to confirm her identity. She rejects the medal and so Harry give the medal to her son, Gary.
17 years later, another Kingsman operative is attempting the rescue of a kidnapped Professor. The operative is almost successful until he is killed in over the top fashion by Gazelle, a female assassin with bladed prosthetic legs.
This opening sequence sets up the plot threads for the film. Harry takes the teen, Gary, under his wing and begins his training to become a member of the Kingsmen. The scenes trade off between Gary and other candidate’s training and those that further reveal the villainous intentions of Sam Jackson’s Mr. Valentine.
Kingsman entertains with action set pieces that defy physics and ramp up the budget for blood spatter. One of the highlights of the film is an extended sequence that takes place in a church. Mr. Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson, speaking in only the 2nd most annoying voice this year, has created technology that uses cell phone signals to turn people into murderous hordes. His first test case of the mass murder network he created is in this church. We see an incredibly choreographed sequence of death and destruction in excruciating detail and slow motion that leaves Harry as the sole survivor. Upon emerging from the church, Harry regains his composure and has a fateful encounter with Mr. Valentine. This sets up the plot for the final act of the film.
Kingsman is a fun action movie for its demographic. My problem with the film is that I’m not sure how to take violence that is shown in such gleeful, glorious detail and I’m definitely uncomfortable with the notion of a female character offering sex as a reward for her freedom. (Admittedly a staple of the Roger Moore James Bond years, but at least it was inferred and not graphically described).
Should I take this as just a modern take on an old formula or should I take it as where we’ve come as a society because we are so desensitized to sex and violence in today’s cinema? I think the answer to this may unfortunately say more about us than it does about the film.
Kingsman: The Secret Service-B
Remember The Matrix? Remember how groundbreaking that movie was? Do you remember how it was hailed as an instant classic and how it became an iconic film? Remember how the Wachowski’s were being anointed as the next wunderkind of Cinema? Now think about the reception of The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions achieved. These films came nowhere close to fulfilling the promise that was first seen in the Wachowski’s future.
The film is a rehash of an old Space Opera Trope. Jupiter is the reincarnated Queen of an alien race. The current rulers somehow miraculously know of her existence and must either kill or gain control of her or else their way of life is over. (Why? Who knows? Just roll with it.) A dashing hero is dispatched to protect Jupiter and help her save Earth as well. Wackiness ensues, yada, yada, yada, explosions, love blooms, roll credits.
It’s really not anymore complicated than that. The story is pretty bare bones and has some cringeworthy dialogue (“Bees are genetically engineered to recognize royalty” comes to mind.) It’s also the home of one of the strangest acting choices in recent memory. Eddie Redmayne plays Balem Abrasax, the current ruler of this part of the universe. He speaks with such oddly annoying tone to his voice that he comes across more as laughable than credible.
However, the film excels in its cinematography and special effects. It is a gorgeous film to look at. The designs of the ships are creative and other worldly looking. The battle scenes, whether on the streets of Chicago, or in deep space draws the audience in and provides a roller coaster type experience that is difficult to find in a movie theater.
Mila Kunis does a great job in the title role. She is capable of playing the range of emotions necessary of this role to make her truly enjoyable to watch. Channing Tatum was a good choice for the role of Caine and has good chemistry with Ms. Kunis.
This could have been an epic film if the script had received as much attention as the cinematography and effects. As it is, we have something that is pretty exciting to look at but very dull to listen to.
Jupiter Ascending: C