Neill Blomkamp returns to his realistic cyberpunk-ugly stomping grounds in “Chappie.” Stylistically of a piece with his earlier modern-times parables “District 9” and “Elysium,” the sci-fi geek’s third feature turns on a sentient robot fighting for what-else-but future humanity amid an industrially ravaged dystopia.
Opening this Friday, the film’s early trade reviews augur bad news for the director whose last film “Elysium,” though a commercial success, missed the mark in feathering apocalyptic sci-fi with a heavy-handed missive about the one-percent. “Blomkamp’s third feature exhausts its meager ideas and the viewer well before the end of its two-hour running time,” writes Variety’s Justin Chang, one of many critics who trumpeted Blomkamp’s debut “District 9.”
Ahead of “Chappie”‘s release, Fox strategically announced that Blomkamp will indeed helm the “Alien” resurrection, marking the South African director’s first official jump into Hollywood franchise waters. (His years-in-the-making attempt to mount the “Halo” franchise foundered sourly.) And in a swift bit of fanboy-stroking genius, Blomkamp also confirmed that Sigourney Weaver will return and that his film, rather than following in the footsteps of Ridley Scott’s recent standalone Alien pic “Prometheus,” will finish what the original films started: the story of Weaver’s Ripley.
But should we be curbing our enthusiasm for the “Alien” restart? Indiewire argues after seeing “Chappie” that Blomkamp “needs to explore new material,” and hopping into the franchise game is not exactly a bit at aesthetic rebrand. For Blomkamp, it’s a wet dream, the ultimate fanboy wish fulfillment. This may not be the case for the “Alien” series’ actual, earthbound fans however.
AV Club weighs in shrewdly on this discussion:
“Realistically, though, Blomkamp offers no concrete assurance. His social consciousness, while welcome, tends toward the heavy-handed, and plenty of good filmmakers have been sidetracked into franchise maintenance. But rather than switch from hype to panic, that potential for disappointment should, if anything, be embraced. Perhaps spoiled by the admirable clockwork consistency—and accompanying predictability—of the Marvel Studios films, some genre fans seem to require assurances that franchise films will be respectful enterprises, safe from substantial risk or experimentation. When fan or even filmmaker excitement over franchise continuations focuses so heavily on honoring fan memories or righting perceived wrongs…it creates a kind of empty comfort, not so different from the comforts franchise-obsessed studios get from brand names.”
Forbes almost chimes in about Blomkamp’s “Alien”:
“The interesting thing about the ‘Alien’ franchise is that it is a very well known and beloved film franchise yet most of its biggest fans would tell you that most of the films in its universe are not very good… What interests me is the excitement of the would-be fans of the franchise who seem sure that we’re going to be getting a would-be classic ‘Alien’ film. ‘Alien’ is a franchise, started in 1979 by Ridley Scott as an outer-space variation on ‘And Then There Were None,’ that has spawned seven motion pictures over the last 36 years. Yet if you talk to most hardcore fans and even many of the would-be general fans, they’ll tell that only ‘Alien’ and James Cameron’s ‘Aliens’ was any good. If you take these people at their word, they are thrilled for a new installment of a franchise that hasn’t had a good film in 29 years and has a batting average of 28%.”
The weekend box office should tell us more about how passionately audiences are willing to throw their weight behind this director who, at least, you can’t say hasn’t made an original thing or two. And if anyone is to be trusted with the keys to the “Alien” kingdom, why not a hardcore fan?