My how time flies. In 2009, Neill Blomkamp gave birth to one of the most impressive science fiction stories to hit the big screen. District 9 was visually striking and meaningful in its subtext. Fans everywhere rejoiced about the possibilities for this young director. Unfortunately, we had to wait four years for his next release. In 2013 Blomkamp delivered the heavy-handed Elysium. The film was difficult to watch and was panned by critics and fans alike. Was this a sign that maybe we expected too much from him? Despite this setback, I remained hopeful for his future work. Would he direct a Halo movie? Would he make a follow up to District 9? The possibilities were exciting.
So, here we are with his third release, Chappie. Like the two previous movies, Chappie was shot in South Africa and seemingly continues to be a conduit for his storytelling.
The movie starts off with a familiar theme of crime and social unrest. Set in Johannesburg in 2016, the police force has enhanced their strength by incorporating robots called scouts. A company called Tetravaal manufactures this new breed of crime fighting. It’s at this company we are introduced to Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) who is the brainchild of the Scout program. Because of Deon’s success, coworker Vincent Moore (Hugh Hackman) is jealous and feels his weapons project called Moose has suffered due to lack of funding. The CEO of the company Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver) explains that the Moose project isn’t what the customers want which infuriates Vincent. From the start, we see this relationship between Vincent (Jackman) and Deon (Patel) on a path of destruction. It’s that familiar office story where jealousy creates the perfect antagonist.
After Deon Wilson creates an AI with consciousness, he learns that his employer has no interest in it. Frustrated, Deon steals a scrapped Scout robot with the intention to upload the AI himself. Along the way, a trio of crusty thugs hijacks Deon. This trio consists of oddball characters named Ninja, Yolndi and Amerika. In kidnaping Deon, they are hoping for a way to control the Scout police robots by acquiring a kill switch. Once Deon uploads the AI to the Scout robot, we see the birth of Chappie. From the start, he is quite likeable which is the exact opposite of every other character in the movie. The actors who play Ninja and Yolandi are actually named Ninja and Yo-Landi Visser of the South African rap-rave duo Die Antwoord. Every scene these clowns were in irritated the hell out of me. They were just not likeable. Maybe it was due to the exaggerated bravado and stereotype gang banger characterizations.
In fact, as Chappie becomes more consciously aware, he starts to absorb their bad behavior. I assume this was done so Blomkamp could add humor to the film as many scenes are filled with cheesy jokes.
After realizing what Deon has done, Vincent sabotages the Scout robot program, which in turn shuts down every Scout robot. Once this happens, all hell breaks loose. It seems that every bad soul in Johannesburg comes out to loot and riot. It was really strange seeing Hugh Jackman play the role of a bad dude. To make it worse, his performance was rather bland. Other than his rocking mullet, there wasn’t anything special.
Once the city is under attack, Michelle Bradley (Weaver) authorizes the use of the Moose mech robot. Vincent relishes this opportunity and proceeds to hunt down Chappie and the trio of thugs. The final skirmish between them is visually boring and anti-climatic. While the Moose looked like it could lay down some serious destruction, the outcome was a letdown. In fact, the entire movie was a letdown. Other than Chappie himself, everything else felt incomplete and broken. It’s as if two writers took their stories and mashed them together. I do like how Blomkamp explored the nature and nurture of artificial intelligence by providing a narrative for its evolution. After all, giving life to an AI who then realizes his existence is pretty interesting. Unfortunately, there weren’t enough of those concepts explored. Instead what we got was RoboCop meets Short Circuit sprinkled with explosions and simplified action sequences.
Is Neill Blomkamp becoming the next M. Knight Shyamalan? Let’s hope not. I don’t ever want to watch Mark Wahlberg talk to a plant again.
Official website: http://www.sonypictures.com/movies/chappie/