Neill Blomkamp first hit the big screen after a bunch of interesting short films with District 9 – a science-fiction film that had a much smaller scope in a location that wasn’t the United States for a change, yet could still deliver wonderful special effects and impactful action. He followed that groundbreaking film with Elysium, a general disappointment of a flick despite some stellar trailers. Now he brings us this: Chappie.
In what looks like Short Circuit through way of Robocop, Chappie is a film that stars Dev Patel, Hugh Jackman, Die Antwoord (yeah, really), Sigourney Weaver, and of course, Blomkamp mainstay Sharlto Copley. It’s set in the near future where in South Africa the first fully automatic police droids have been invented and implemented, but one particularly unlucky drone, CHAPPiE (Sharlto Copley), is disabled, installed with artificial intelligence newly discovered by Dev Patel’s Deon, brought up by Die Antwoord, and employed to commit crimes like robbery and grand theft auto.
All the while with Hugh Jackman’s Vincent – a rival robotics designer to Deon – strives to finally have his project noticed – The “Moose”, an ED-209-like over-the-top combat drone, even if that means sabotaging CHAPPiE and the rest of South Africa’s robotic police force.
And the film, overall, is not very good. Which is a huge shame.
It just adds more thinking towards Neill Blomkamp being a one-hit wonder in the world of cinema. Chappie is a film that is very amateurishly written, with plot beats, hollow characters, and cliched dialogue that is comparable to the most base, least interesting examples of the sci-fi action genre. Some moments work – Blomkamp is good at the whole faux-documentary snippets and establishing world-building – but for the most part, Chappie is long, unimpressive, and tonally all over the place.
Chappie is a film that one cannot take seriously. Whether that’s the mother/father/child/god dynamic between the four main leads or the silliness of Dev Patel cracking the code for artificial intelligence after three Red Bulls or just every single thing Hugh Jackman says or does. Seriously, Jackman seems to be quite good at being hammy and entertaining to watch from time to time, and Chappie is a stellar example. A moment where he pulls a gun out in a crowded office and points it against Dev Patel’s face as a “joke” isn’t even the tip of the iceberg.
Unintentionally hilarious, Chappie is a film that deals with subject matter and themes that have been tackled much better in much better movies. Ex Machina was a criminally under-watched film that did so much more with artificial intelligence, and of course Big Hero 6 was a glorious animated film with another lovable robot buddy who could be programmed with new ideas. Chappie rather pales in comparison, with only the want of 1980s sci-fi action joy as a good selling point. Unfortunately, Chappie suffers a great deal in the ways District 9 and Elysium did, where what begins as a solid concept devolves into the most generic and boring action-packed third half.
And even then, Chappie under-delivers on that. Once the first moment of a completely drastic change of tone happens action-wise, Chappie becomes just too ridiculous. It shows Blomkamp’s penchant for the over-the-top, in a film that already boasts Ninja and Yolandi of Die Antwoord fame as underdog crooks trying to save their hides through silly schemes.
Overall, Chappie is a disappointment of a film that seemed to have a lot of promise, which one hopes won’t be the case for yet another Alien movie we actually don’t need. Blomkamp’s films can be noted in their style and set design and special effects, but he can’t exactly match the talent of Ridley Scott or James Cameron in their primes. Maybe he’ll beat Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s foray into the Alien world.
Until then, Chappie is almost certainly a miss. If you do still want to see it, try to strive for the IMAX because the visuals certainly work. But bring a friend who you don’t mind laughing and joking with while watching how unintentionally silly this movie is, and try not to drink every time you see a Sony product or a rubber chicken.
You read that right.
Chappie hits cinemas in the UK on Friday 6th March 2015. It’s directed by Neill Blomkamp from a script co-written by Terri Tatchell, and stars Dev Patel, Hugh Jackman, Die Antwoord, Sharlto Copley and Sigourney Weaver.