Chappie – Review
After the mixed reception Elysium received, Neill Blomkamp has returned to South Africa to try and recapture some of the magic which made District 9 one of the best sci-fi movies of this century.
In Chappie, a robotic police force has been established to tackle soaring crime rates in Johannesburg, but the inventor’s deeper ambition is to create a full AI; the influences range from Frankenstein to AI: Artificial Intelligence to Robocop. Blomkamp once again quickly establishes an intriguing science fiction premise set within a visually and thematically engaging dystopian world.
It is difficult to pin the mixed performances on the actors or the script. The rivalry between Patel and Jackman displays some good chemistry, but as the actors only directly interact in a handful of scenes it remains largely unexplored. It is a credit to Jackman that his antagonist is menacing despite sporting cargo shorts and a mullet for much of the film. Sigourney Weaver is criminally underused, while Sharlto Copley’s turn as Chappie veers between charming and crass. Finally, the gang who adopt Chappie, played by South African hip-hop group Die Antwoord, are frustrating to watch. One dimensional characters and poor actors do not mix, and the large part the pair play drags on the film heavily.
Despite some of the weaknesses in its content, Chappie is gorgeously directed. There are some fantastic uses of slow-mo and the run down landscapes of Johannesburg help to ground the sci-fi premise in a believable world. As ever, the VFX are the strong suit of Blomkamp’s cinema; Chappie appears as a tangible presence on-screen thanks to a combination of impressive graphic design and excellent technical work, and the competing MOOSE robot is reminiscent of the ED-209 in Robocop.
Where the premise of Elysium was slightly too simple, and stretched to carry a feature film, Chappie is grand in its ambition and struggles to answer or even address the questions and themes it raises. Questions on consciousness, artificial intelligence, technology and the nature of humanity are all raised, but spend most of the film lingering in the background, where a half-interesting character drama plays out. Chappie is at its best when it acknowledges these questions, but rarely does so. Apart from a funny montage of Chappie learning to jack cars, the comedic beats veer between sickly sweet and plain crass. The action packed finale ends up feeling inevitable and unsatisfying.