Jose Pablo Cantillo
“Chappie,” like Director Neill Blomkamp’s first film “District 9,” takes place in the South African city of Johannesburg. The city is over run with crime and gangs seem to be everywhere. Because of this problem, a large weapons manufacturing company develops a new droid humanoid robot to add to the police force.
This is where we enter one of the film’s protagonists, a software developer for the robots named Deon (Patel). Deon has his sights set on creating the first artificial intelligence and pulls off the feat and uploads the program to a damaged police robot. Problems arise, though, when the robot ends up in the hands of a trio of gangsters (Ninja, Yo-Landi Visser, Cantillo) who begin teaching the impressionable droid criminal acts.
This creates a dilemma for Deon, as he has to worry about the robot, who eventually is named Chappie (Copley), as well as the company he works for, where there is a former military man named Vincent (Jackman) who has his own robot that he wants to activate and use.
“Chappie” is a film that suffers heavily due to its story-telling and pacing. Blomkamp puts too much of the film’s focus on the wrong spots with the wrong characters and doesn’t properly show a good evolution with the main character Chappie. Instead of seeing Chappie learn about the world, society, the meaning of artificial intelligence and other interesting topics, we see him be taught how to walk and act like a gangster, how to hold a gun sideways and how to steal cars.
I understand that the movie was showing the corruption of an impressionable character, however, it was simply handled wrong. Chappie always seems satisfied with learning about how to be cool and doesn’t appear to have any sense of wonder at what he is or what moral dilemmas there are. This is a real disappointment when compared to other, similar characters like Sonny from “I, Robot” and Leeloo from “The Fifth Element.”
In Blomkamp’s other two films, social commentary was made and the subjects were fairly well explored. That wasn’t really the case in “Chappie.” Despite being about a police robot, the issue of police brutality is never brought up.
Neither is the issue of artificial intelligence. What are the ethics behind this new technology, how should it be applied, where should it be applied, should there be any protocols. None of this is ever heavily discussed. There is a point made toward the end of the picture about what conscience is, however, it comes across more as a deus ex machina than an actual dilemma of social morality.
The worst part of the movie, though, is the acting, mainly from the three gangsters played by Ninja, Yo-Landi Visser and Cantillo. The biggest issue is that Ninja and Yo-Landi Visser are both members of a rap group and not actual actors to begin with. Since so much of the movie revolves around these characters, many of the scenes come off as unbelievable.
Not only is the acting poor, though, these characters are also heavily unlikable. These characters aren’t just petty pick-pockets who are scraping by, these three characters are violent offenders who are unafraid to brutally hurt others. The biggest issue with them is that instead of Chappie changing them into better people through his charm and wonder, they end up changing Chappie.
This whole concept could maybe have worked if the characters had been more like Han Solo from “Star Wars,” a bad boy, an outlaw, a person who doesn’t always agree with law enforcement, but ultimately a guy with a heart of gold. Instead, all Chappie has to learn from is three characters who are simply mean spirited criminals.
The more veteran actors don’t get a pass, either. Sigourney Weaver, Dev Patel and Hugh Jackman are all talented performers and have proved so in other movies. In this film, though, the characters come across as too clichéd and their dialogue isn’t very good. Jackman plays a typical hardened military character, who has no real motivation, Weaver is the basic greedy CEO, similar to the character Giovanni Ribisi played in “Avatar” and Patel is simply a scientist with hardly any deeper characteristics.
The main character, Chappie himself was alright, and the film crew did a great job using motion capture technology to bring him to life. Sharlto Copley was the one who portrayed Chappie and did a fine job in the role and like the other actors, was held back more due to the writing than anything else.
One would hope that at the very least, Blomkamp would be able to deliver in the action and special effects department, but the result comes off as hit or miss. There are some well shot action sequences here and the special effects are all well integrated.
The problem is that a lot of the tech has been seen before. Many other viewers who have also watched “Chappie” have stated that one of the bigger robots looks similar to the ED 209 from “Robocop,” and they are right. The thing looks almost the same, just with a new coat of paint. That being said, the action is enough to keep things exciting.
That excitement can only go so far, though. The thing about action moments is that the viewer has to be connected to the characters in question, and that’s very difficult to do in “Chappie.”
With all of the other issues the film has, it makes the whole experience very disappointing. Blomkamp was allowed a sophomore slump with “Elysium,” however, with his new film “Chappie,” his rank on the director chart is starting to move down. For spectacle alone, this one scrapes by at a low 2 out of 5.