The best thing about Chappie is Chappie himself. The first A.I with consciousness – he begins life like a human baby; learning rapidly about the world around him. Chappie is a part of the mechanised police force that patrol the streets of Johannesburg in Neill Blomkamp’s muddled, futuristic action-thriller. Crime rates are down and Johannesburg is experiencing a new peace thanks to the titanium bodies that now protect the streets. One thing leads to another and suddenly Chappie find himself on the scrap heap, only to be rescued by the man who created him, Deon. When he simultaneously falls into the hands of a gangster trio and is implanted with Deon’s revolutionary new software – Chappie is truly born. What follows is a Frankenstein-inspired story in which the loveable robot learns about life and the cruelty of human nature. In clichéd scenes we watch him paint and read and learn about mortality. Whilst his gangster foster family intend to use him to insist in a heist, Deon is trying to deal with a jealous colleague who is determined to see his own creation alive on the streets of South Africa. In the middle of all of this is the vulnerable protagonist who must come to terms with his own limited battery life as he queries the point of life when death is so inevitable. Neill Blomkamp, who burst onto the scene with the ambitious but highly problematic District 9, continues his pattern with Chappie; an equally over-complicated experience which tries to do far too much.
The biggest problems here stem from script, performance and character. Sigourney Weaver looks bored to tears and Hugh Jackman is wasted in a project that doesn’t give him enough to work with. His poorly developed villain is so limited that he is forced into a constant rambling outer-monologue which verges on the absurd. Dev Patel’s over-acting is pretty painful but the performances from rap-rave duo Ninja and Yolandi Visser are the film’s greatest downfall. The duo take to film like a canon-ball to water. They use their own names and give high-school drama-class style performances. This twisted meta style prevents us from any emotional investment in the characters and their outcomes. Chappie, like the aliens of District 9, is original and interesting. The film’s score is typical but enticing and some scenes look fantastic. There is a lot to admire within Chappie but everything good is over-shadowed by the insultingly stupid plot flawes and tenuous links between too many themes. The best A.I. movies stick with, and explore, one central moral issue. Only recently, Ex Machina haunted us with its study of playing God and the danger of creating life. Chappie is desperate to explore it all. It doesn’t dedicated enough time to individual philosophical threads which leads to a really insincere, rushed conclusion. The final half an hour is a panicked mess of revelations and tie-ups. There’s a pretty solid half an hour somewhere in the middle which is nice whilst it lasts. Neill Blomkamp is yet to prove himself to me. As he now turns his attention to his next film – a contribution to the Alien universe – I can’t help but feel worried. Chappie and District 9 were too similar for my liking – there is not enough progression here to reassure me that we are going to finally see an Alien sequel/prequel worthy of the first.
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