Film Face-off: 'District 9' vs. 'Chappie'

Film Face-off: 'District 9' vs. 'Chappie'

Mar 09, 2015

Aliens and robots have overrun the city of Johannesburg, South Africa. First it was the aliens (District 9) and now it's the robots (Chappie). Depending on how you look at it, we have one man and one muse to thank and/or blame. Neill Blomkamp is the writer/director of both films, and his main man is Sharlto Copley. And if you've never seen Blomkamp's work, Copley is the man who keeps butchering the pronunciation of Maleficent in the film Maleficent.

The critics' consensus is that District 9 was better than Blomkamp's second effort, Elysium, even though the second one offered us Matt Damon along with Jodie Foster and her weird accent. So, does Blomkamp bounce back with Chappie or continue his downward trend? We're glad we asked that question, because that means it's the perfect fit for this week's Film Face-off.

 

Tagline

District 9

You Are Not Welcome Here.

Chappie

Humanity's Last Hope Isn't Human.

Winner: District 9. This is a dominant victory for D9. It's not because it's less characters, or that it uses the pronoun "you" making the audience potentially feel like the message is directed at them. It's because it makes sense for the movie. Simple, right? Chappie is not about humanity needing to be saved. Chappie is also not the last hope for any large group of people surviving. We can't think of a more incorrect tagline for a film, but if you can, please list it below. Here's a suggestion for a Chappie tagline: A Gangsta Robot Will Rise. Are You Ready? We know that's not good, but it's at least accurate. Plus, our answer would be, "no."

 

The Main Man

District 9

Wikus (Copley) seems to be working his job at MNU (Multinational United) because of his father-in-law. He’s the type that does what he’s told and doesn’t really think twice about it. He loves his wife. Then he gets sprayed with alien goo.

Chappie

Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) created Chappie (voiced by Copley), and he's almost the lead, but the film tends to focus on Chappie a little bit more. He's the first police officer robot who has emotions. He starts with a baby's knowledge and quickly evolves.

Winner: District 9. It takes a while to appreciate Wikus. Mainly because he's a weak pushover. That helps us feel his pain as the journey goes on. While Chappie does evolve, it's not in a way that is enjoyable at all. It's like he's the strongest, most powerful kid. He's scared, pouts, and is desperate to act gangsta. On top of all of this, he reminds us more of Jar Jar Binks than any robot we have ever seen. When his knowledge finally catches up to his potential (with the help of the Internet), he oddly doesn't seem that evolved, and he's terribly surprised to find out what knives are capable of doing to people.

 

The Supporting Cast

District 9

Besides Copley there is Louis Minnaar as Piet Smit, Vanessa Haywood as Tania Smit van de Merwe, Eugene Khumbanyiwa as Nigerian arms dealer Obesandjo, David James as Koobus Venter and the prawns, with the key prawn played by Jason Cope.

Chappie

Besides Copley and Patel there is Ninja as Ninja, Yo-Landi Visser as Yolandi, Hugh Jackman as Vincent Moore, Sigourney Weaver as Michelle Bradley, Jose Pablo Cantillo as Amerika, Brandon Auret as Hippo, and Anderson Cooper as Himself.

Winner: District 9. If you haven't seen D9 lately, those names above might not be enough to remember the actors. Sure, some of them absolutely keep their heads down and do a good (but not necessarily memorable) job. None of them are doing bad work. The same cannot be said for Chappie. Jackman's mullet is the only thing worth mentioning about his performance, besides an office gun rage scene that is foolishly over the top. Ninja and Yo-Landi form the real-life rap group Die Antwoord. It is amazing that they are starring in a wide-release film. The problem is that we are supposed to find them fun, funny, interesting, or emotionally compelling. We thought for a second that Auret was Michael Shannon, but then he started acting and we could immediately see the difference. The reason we mention Cooper is because he says "robutts" instead of "robots," and this needs to be talked about for the rest of time.

 

The Action

District 9

There are plenty of alien guns that can only be used if you have alien DNA. Lasers, lightning, and sonic booms all seem to fire from those guns. The humans have typical military-grade weaponry, including a super sniper rifle, which is almost strong enough to take down an alien mechanized battle suit. The battle suit has plenty of bells and whistles.

Chappie

Chappie eventually learns to shoot a gun, use nunchucks, throw knives, and kick. There is a mechanized battle suit which seems like an evolution of the one from District, but this time it's controlled remotely by Vincent's brain. There is a truck-jacking.

Winner: District 9. Chappie is two hours long. While we didn't have our stopwatch out, it felt like there was less than 20 minutes of action in this movie. Instead, it's filled with Deon being annoyed that Ninja took the greatest scientific leap in robot technology. It also has Chappie petting dogs (to prove to the audience that we like him). The main action in Chappie feels like a ripoff of D9 with a big, powerful gun going up against the mech robot thing that seems like it was stolen from RoboCop. There are plenty of moments in District 9 were you see something cool happen. Chappie is void of those moments.

 

The Problems

District 9

There is an occasional documentary style used throughout the film, with "experts" being interviewed. In other words, Wikus' journey is in the past. There is also the issue with this magical fluid.

Chappie

Chappie learns everything on the Internet, but can easily be tricked by certain things. Chappie doesn't have a human head/brain, but the virtual reality helmet works the same for him. Many people have guns, yet forget. Then there is Sigourney Weaver's Michelle Bradley character.

Winner: District 9. If you under-explain plot points, it at least creates conversation. If you don't bother explaining, or just forget to focus on what could possibly interest the audience, then we've got a problem. That's the difference between these two films. The fluid that sprays on Wikus is insanely magical, and it didn't need to be. It is the rocket fuel needed to power their giant ship AND somehow it also has the power to change humans into prawns. Also the documentary style doesn't add anything to the film, except letting us know that the human race survives without disastrous results.

Chappie thinks it is about what it means to be human, we think. It is really hung up on making Chappie gangsta. This doesn't serve a greater purpose besides giving Ninja something to do (which is another problem). Sometimes Ninja points a gun at Deon, and sometimes Deon points a gun at Ninja, but never at the same time, and never with any consequences, except Deon telling Ninja that he's not nice. The end of Chappie focuses on survival, but has no emotional impact or any bigger picture implications. Weaver utters the line, "I have authorized the launch of the Moose," which is our new catchphrase for every situation in life going forward.

Also, it's a half second, but her life is in danger in one scene, and the next time she's on camera, you see her running out of the room with her coat and purse. In other words, the director and editor decided it was important for us to know that if Michelle's life is in danger, she still is a practical woman who cares about whatever crap is in her purse and the temperature outside even though the only thing that character should care about at that point is not dying. No, we aren't making too big of a deal about this annoying second of screen time.

 

OVERALL WINNER: District 9 defeats Chappie 5-0

Get your brooms out, it's a clean sweep by District 9. It's like Blomkamp is an evolutionary M. Night Shyamalan. It took the majority of the public five films (his fifth was Lady in the Water) to be really worried about Shyamalan's directorial drop. By his sixth (The Happening) he proved our hunch. Blomkamp has gotten worse in his three films, with Chappie being a really, really bad movie. He's ahead of Shyamalan's pace, plus he started off with a good film (District 9) compared to a great film (The Sixth Sense). What did Shyamalan do next? He took an already known property, loved my millions, and gave us The Last Airbender. What is Blomkamp doing next? He's taking an already known property, which loved by millions. It's possible his Alien film, with Weaver attached, will be good, but not if he plans on continuing in the path blazed by Shyamalan.

Categories: Features, Sci-Fi, In Theaters
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