As many of you may already know, “Chappie” is one of my most anticipated films of the entire year (number 13 on my top 20 list). Why? Well, with it being directed by Neil Blomkamp I couldn’t wait to see what his project would end up being. “District 9” is one my favorite modern day science fiction movies and is one of the best this young century of filmmaking has to offer. “Elysium” (his second project) was a big step backwards but never the less a fine and enjoyable watch that has a lot to like in it just overall didn’t hit all its marks. “Chappie” is similar to “Elysium”; enjoyable and has a number of great things in it but has several other elements that miss the mark completely. “Chappie” isn’t terrible, a solid but otherwise a missed opportunity for director Neil Blomkamp.
In the near future, crime levels is at an all time high in South Africa. The police force can’t seem to find a way to combat it, until one company creates a robotic police force that significantly cuts down on crime. Then in the line duty, one robot is significantly damaged. This destroyed robot is about to be demolished, but get stolen along with the robot’s creator by a group of gangsters. The creator had developed a new programming for the robot to become the first self aware robot that the gangsters force him to activate.
There are more than a few odd elements that Blomkamp seems to employ here in “Chappie”. In the very opening it appears like Blomkamp is going back to his mixing of documentary and traditional filmmaking styles like he did in “District 9”. It has a few interviews referencing the robot named Chappie then cuts back several months before those interviews took place to a CNN opening giving the exposition of the world but it all feels very rushed. It doesn’t help the world feel more credible so it only serves as exposition and he seems to abandon that element later on in the film. In fact the movie doesn’t even circle back around to those brief interviews (seen at the beginning) at the end. So that beg the question of why even have them there in the first place? There are a couple elements like that don’t seem to grab onto anything vitally important in the story.
Though there are several other story elements that are rehashed from other works such as “Robocop” or “Short Circuit” this does provide a different angle on the robot becoming self aware storyline. Instead of the robot being purely evil or purely good there is a moral dilemma that Chappie has to go through. Being raised by gangsters he is taught to do bad things but he starts to understand right from wrong as his creator tries to teach him a different perspective on life. So there are two combative forces coming together on Chappie. He does bad things but he learns from them and evolves from them. Chappie as a character is actually the most brilliant part of the movie. He is sympathetic and quite honestly the most relatable character of the movie. Chappie does represent that “nature versus nurture” discussion; is it where we grow up that makes us who are or are we just naturally a certain kind of way because of acquired traits? Is Chappie a product of his environment or would he naturally do the things he did regardless? There is a fascinating discussion to be had.
Chappie is played by Sharlto Copley. A regular Neil Blomkamp directed actor (appearing now in all of his films), Copley gives another incredible performance doing both the voice and the motion capture work on Chappie. He gives the robot a soul, some emotion, able to play off his childlike innocence and his development throughout the picture. After “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” and now “Chappie”, we are seeing more and more the types of performances we could get out actors playing motion capture roles. Why Copley isn’t in more roles? I’m not sure, but once again he impresses.
Along with the visual effects that bring Chappie to life, this movie is dominated by another visually stunning production from Neil Blomkamp. All the effects look great along with the motion captured robot police force. Even when they are interacting with real human being they feel tangible. This is on a reduced budget from “Elysium” with just 49 million dollars to spend and Blomkamp once again delivers a visual feast for the eyes.
The scripting though is not all there either. The movie does have a solid pace but there are some plot problems that make you go, wait that doesn’t make sense. It’s not because the issue is it’s smart more so that it’s just flat out dumb (on a side note I would like to add that this company has the worst security ever). Especially the very end, the movie jumps the shark a bit. Although the movie does some precedent for the ending, Blomkamp doesn’t do enough build up without it feeling contrived. It does take away a lot from the movie, I was really enjoying the explosive finale until the end. I am being vague on purpose to not give much away. I have a feeling either the ending will be loved or hated by people (for me I fall in the former).
The action from Blomkamp is once again very exciting. In some regards I would argue that some sequences in this movie is some of his best to date. The finale is very exciting, the opening raid on the gangs offer plenty of thrilling moments for viewers to have.
As far as some of the other acting goes, this isn’t a movie that will win any awards. While not badly acted the majority of these actors that Blomkamp casted are serviceable but never excel. The two hip hop artist Ninja and Yo-Landi Visser for many ruined the film, I didn’t mind them so much. Far from being good, I would rather had Blomkamp casted real actors for the roles, but not a huge burden either.
Hugh Jackman chews the scenery a bit as one of the main antagonists. He wasn’t all that great in the movie either, but then again his character is pretty two dimensional that it’s hard to get much material to work with. Sigourney Weaver I almost feel isn’t worth talking about seeing as she is barely in this movie (despite being advertised as a big star). Again Weaver is pretty two dimensional and feels very much like Jodie Foster in “Elysium”. A fine performance but a disappointing one coming from an Oscar level actress and could be played by just about anyone. Dev Patel is actually very good. He gives a lot of emotion and range in his performance and sadly gets a little overlook amongst big stars like Jackman and Weaver.
This movie has its flaws but excels at several other elements; the action is good, the visuals are stunning, and the character of Chappie is well rounded and executed. The ending sort of ruined the finale for me and did take away something from the movie but “Chappie” is still a okay but disappointing sci-fi tale.