South Africa, specifically Johannesburg is in a state of turmoil, where the crime rates have soared and the gangs have overpowered the local law enforcement. In response, the government deploys a squadron of robotic soldiers to combat the local gangs, and they're a roaring success. The brain behind the machines, Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) wants to try implement a new kind of AI system that can learn, instead of merely follow commands and protocol like his earlier creations, but his boss at Tetravaal, Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver) doesn't see the need to fix what isn't broken.
However Deon remains undeterred and wants to go further with his experiments, even willing to risk his career, so he steals a damaged robot from Tetravaal. While Deon is on his way home he's kidnapped by some local thugs that are led by Ninja (Ninja) and Yo-Landi (Yo-Landi Visser) and they force him to program the robot to do whatever they want, a robot that comes to be known as Chappie. All the while a former soldier turned engineer Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman) is jealous of Deon's success and suspects Deon is up to no good. As Ninja and Yo-Landi 'train' Chappie to be a criminal, they publicly garner exposure on the potential flaws of manipulation that the robots are susceptible to and Vincent gets the go ahead to launch his own robot, aptly named 'Moose' to contain the outbreak.
Neill Blomkamp (director) has been accused of being a repetitive filmmaker, nothing but a one trick pony who hasn't grown as a director since the success of District 9 and Chappie is only going to reinforce those sentiments, even erode his status as a young up-and-coming director somewhat. Irrespective of the highly derivative story Chappie draws from, including anything and everything from Short Circuit to Blade Runner to I, Robot and many others, it's still a cliche ridden mess of a film from a storytelling perspective. The concept of Chappie being 'born' and essentially having the mind of an infant as he slowly accrues information, while not a new idea, was poorly handled, and his treatment at the hands of these self-serving thugs never amounted to anything more than neglect and outright abuse. Neill Blomkamp establishes Chappie as being a child, an infant basically, so I didn't like to see him being constantly manipulated and abused by these low class gangsters.
I liked the start of Chappie, the setup and pacing was good in the first 15 minutes, it felt very involving and I felt like this was going to be a return to form for Neill Blomkamp, but then it slowly deteriorated into this clunky, inconsistent and generally off-putting movie. I think the biggest problem for me was the characters, I really didn't care about any of them, actually forget about care, I didn't even like any of them. I was actively hoping that they'd all die, even the only 'good' guy in the movie, I was apathetic about. I was looking forward to seeing Hugh Jackman in a villainous role, but he was shortchanged into a xenophobic stereotype we've all seen before, he's basically reduced to being a dues ex machina in order to move the plot along, the only thing he was missing was a mustache so he could twirl it.
I didn't like the glorification of the drug dealing gang either or their self promotion that was repeatedly shoved in our faces throughout the movie, they're not actors and they constantly remind us of this fact. Pretty much everyone was turned into these overly simplistic and one dimensional caricatures and forget about any shred of behavioral consistency because there isn't any. If Neill Blomkamp was trying to make me feel any semblance of sympathy for Ninja or Yo-Landi, it just wasn't going to happen. They were both thoroughly unlikable and deplorable characters, Ninja much more so than Yo-Landi. I didn't like the meth-punk gangster vibe in Chappie and on top of all that, the editing should have been refined a lot more than what it was. Chappie was full of rushed and contrived drama that didn't ring true at all. At one point in Chappie when Yo-Landi was sincerely and earnestly trying justify Chappie's decision to become a gangster and drug dealer, I just about face-palmed.
Chappie is peppered with a lot of elements from other AI movies, you could almost make a drinking game out of all the 'homages' from previous movies that were in Chappie. Just off the top of my head there's Short Circuit, Real Steel, Blade Runner, RoboCop, RoboCop 2, RoboCop (2014), Transcendence, iRobot, AI, Bicentennial Man, and there's many others outside of the 'robot' angle too, Avatar is one of them, you'll recognize it when you see it. Now I know that most of these movies are in the same genre so they're all playing in the same sandbox, thematically speaking, but Chappie felt like more of an inferior pastiche than it did a unique entry into the AI category.
Admittedly I've dwelt on the negatives a bit, so I will say that there were some funny moments in Chappie, and there were some touching moments here and there, but overall it felt like a squandered opportunity to me. I sincerely hope that Neill Blomkamp can expand his horizons as a filmmaker because Alien 5(?) is his next project and this is a franchise that needs to get back on track in a big way. The Alien franchise really can't sustain another failure and the actors aren't getting any younger. I'd say the pressure is definitely on Neill Blomkamp with Alien, if he messes this one up, it might be back to making short movies for him.
Written by - The Sentry - 15/05/2015