In the near future, crime is patrolled by an oppressive mechanized police force. But now, the people are fighting back. When one police droid, Chappie, is stolen and given new programming, he becomes the first robot with the ability to think and feel for himself. As powerful, destructive forces start to see Chappie as a danger to mankind and order, they will stop at nothing to maintain the status quo and ensure that Chappie is the last of his kind. Sony Pictures Entertainment
There is much to praise about Chappie, which in turn makes me reticent to catalogue its subsequent failings. Once again Blomkamp uses a near-future Johannesburg to effectively paint a convincing picture of urban decay and social division. He manages to seamlessly integrate CGI with the physical and the overall design of all the paramilitary hardware on display is very credible. Image Engine once again created some solid visual effects and actor Sharlto Copley provides not only the voice for the titular Chappie but also a motion captured performance. The screenplay by Neil Blomkamp and Teri Tatchell makes a laudable attempt to explore the subject of Cartesian Dualism.
Sadly, Chappie is tonally all over the place. It veers from Robocopesque violence one moment to Short Circuit sentimentality in another. Some of the plot devices are clumsy and contrived as the director struggles to take the narrative from points A to B. Many of the interesting ideas that the film raises are abandoned along the way. Then of course there are the Chappie's adopted parent, two criminals played by musical artists Ninja and Yolandi Visser. Neither are professional actors and although they have the appropriate deportment and atttitude by dint of their music careers, they fail to live up to their roles. The characters they play are also questionable and at times their manipulation of chappie is not far from child abuse.
Ultimately Chappie pursues an action-based climax and offers a semi twist ending designed to leave the audience musing upon the nature of consciousness, how parental responsibilities impact on society and the privatisation of law enforcement. Yet due to the uneven structure of the movie and its fundamental mistake of trying to be too many things at once, a lot of viewers may well end the movie dissatisfied or confused. Alex Garland's Ex Machina explored many similar themes far more effectively. Then of course the shadow of Steven Spielberg’s AI: Artificial Intelligence, looms large.
The trouble with scoring a hit with your debut picture, such as Blomkamp did with District 9, is that you're often hamstrung by your own previous success. The critics and public can be very unreasonable at times and simply expect lightning to strike twice. This is the second time that Neil Blomkamp appears to have fallen between two stools. The movie smacks of a picture that simply hasn't found the right edit and has already suffered from a lot of post-production tinkering. Apparently after initial shooting in Johannesburg, there was further re-shooting in British Columbia. So perhaps Chappie may benefit from an extended edition or a director’s cut sometime in the future. In the meantime, it remains an intriguing but uneven movie that doesn't meet its potential.