Kingsman and not-Chappie
March 9, 2015
First off, I decided not to go see Chappie. I should, because this is exactly the sort of meaty idea-driven SF I keep saying I like. But this is by the director of Elysium as well as District 9, and Elysium just drove me so bananas, and I find I don’t have the patience for that kind of bad anymore. I used to think it was really useful picking apart failed movies to see exactly what went wrong, but you know what? I’ve done that. I’m done.
I waited for the reviews on this one before I made my decision — and the reviews have not been good. Moreover, the reviews have indicated that the movie fails in many of the same ways Elysium failed: big ideas with a lack of focus and a plot going in five directions at once, with caricatures rather than characters. So yeah. Maybe if someone was paying me I’d go, and that’s the first time I’ve ever thought that while deciding whether to see a movie. Moving on…
I have to confess I bounced off this one a little bit. It might have been high expectations — everyone’s been raving about it, particularly the action and fight choreography. But you know, with the shaky cam it’s really hard to tell how good the action is. Down with shaky cam! **SPOILERS FOLLOW**
It’s nicely done with a competent plot that we’ve all seen before, part Harry Potter and part Luke Skywalker in a James Bond universe. So yeah, a mite predictable but I love Colin Firth so that’s okay. Except they jump out of the airplane and I know something’s going to go wrong with the parachutes because that’s what happens in these things.
It’s also a cartoon, with people getting cut in half but no guts falling out, and peoples’ heads exploding with actual animated mushroom clouds. Except I kept forgetting it was meant to be a cartoon because there’s some serious stuff in here too. The best way I can think to describe it is it keeps going back and forth between being a parody of James Bond movies, and an homage. Which some actual Bond movies do, granted. But I think it was trying to have it both ways, and I got confused.
Another confession: I thought the violence was too much. I would have been happy with PG-13 levels. This was R. But like I said, it’s a cartoon, so we’re supposed to laugh at it? Like, we’re allowed to laugh at Galahad murdering a church full of people because they were, you know, bigoted rednecks? And we can laugh at all the politicians heads exploding because a) politicians and b) anyone stupid enough to let an evil genius implant a chip in their head deserves what they get?
This movie has a weird, dubious morality to it, carefully mocking the people who die violently so we can enjoy the artistry of the violence. But then we’re left with Exy’s mother breaking down the bathroom door so she can murder her baby, and that’s not funny at all. Exy keeps saying he saved the world — but he didn’t, because the governments of every country on Earth have been destroyed and millions of people have presumably died or been injured in a global mind-control scheme. The story starts out with a traditional riff about how the lower class bloke is just as good if not better than the upper class kids and maybe this institution founded by a bunch of Victorian aristocrats who made their fortunes via global colonialism isn’t such a great thing after all, but that all goes away as these things always go away: it isn’t that we want to overturn the system; no, what we want is for our hero to earn his way to the top of the system.
Anyway, I’ve already spent way too much time thinking about this, so I’m going to stop, except for one more thing:
So there’s a joke about secret agent tryouts. The trainers hand the candidates guns and tell them to walk into a room and kill the person inside. The first comes out in tears. “It’s my mother, I can’t do it!” And the second walks into the room and comes back out crying, “It’s my brother, I can’t do it!” And then the third candidate goes into her room, and the trainers hear a gunshot. Then a lot of terrible noise. And the candidate walks out and says, “Yeah, so the gun was loaded with blanks so I had to beat my husband to death.”
I thought about that joke during the movie, and it made me wonder yet again what the point of that test is supposed to be. They obviously don’t want the candidates to actually kill their dogs. But they reward the one who pulls the trigger. So what quality are they advocating here? The hardness that will allow the candidates to kill their loved ones if they have to? Or the bitterness at knowing the institution they work for happily lies to them?
Or as one of my friends said: “They reward the candidate who actually checks to see if the gun is loaded and what with, which is what you should always do when someone hands you a gun.”