The last ten years has seen the sci-fi genre relegated to advanced technology and machine/s either becoming the enemy against the human race or is trying to become part of it. Chappie falls in the latter category, mashing together some archetypes that we’ve seen before (Robocop, A.I. Artificial Intelligence and so on) but failing to give us any real emotion. It seems director Neill Blomkamp couldn’t decide whether he wanted a feel good family affair or a violent machine vs machine action film, and includes both to the point of confusion that leaves the film a jumbled mess.
Set in the near future, the police force is now governed by a robotic police force whose sole purpose is to ‘protect and serve’. Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) is experimenting with the idea of giving these machines the ability to think and feel, heck to even write poetry if they wish. Head CEO and Wilson’s boss Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver) is decidedly against this idea and refuses to fuel Wilson’s theory. Cue the forgotten robot Chappie (voiced by Sharlto Copley) who Wilson saves from destruction and takes it upon himself to humanise the robot. Things get even messier when two thugs Ninja and Yolandi (Ninja and Yo-Landi Visser) kidnap Wilson and Chappie in order to use the robot as a weapon in a planned heist. Also on the scene is Wilson’s co-worker and war obsessed Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman) whose crush, kill, destroy attitude when it comes to machines ends up in a final battle with the more ‘human’ Chappie that everyone saw coming.
The deceptive thing about this film is the fact that there are some actual talented, real deal actors that possess far greater skills then what they present here. Regardless of whether the film has any real direction, the more experienced of the bunch (ahem, Weaver and Jackman) seem to just be rolling through the motions and not really giving anything to their characters, thus making them far too one dimensional that contributes to the overall lacklustre attitude present throughout. Patel has a little more interest in what’s happening on screen, but the best part of the film is most definitely Ninja and Yo-Landi Vesser (of the band Die Antwoord) who play the wannabe gangsters with enough self-awareness to not take themselves too seriously and just have fun with it, which was a welcome saving grace.
Creatively speaking, there are a lot of themes present that singularly would be great movies to watch with the same premise as Chappie. Unfortunately here Blomkamp has put too many eggs in one basket, over indulging in both the familial PG13 scenes and the more mature, gory moments in the film. Making matters worse is that both were interchangeable, and you barely had time to recover from laughing at one scene to then being shocked by the level of violence in the next. The unclear direction of Chappie is the greatest contributor to why it’s not as successful as it could’ve been, which is disappointing because Blomkamp does have the ability to create beautifully simple, interesting films (District 9 anyone?).
A clear focus on what you want a film to be is a necessary component if you want to create a critical and commercial success. Yet the amalgamated elements of Chappie leave behind a jumbled mess that Blomkamp cannot escape, thus keeping the film at a ho-hum level of wasted potential and promise.
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