I will never forget the feeling I had when I exited the theater after the screening of District 9 nearly five years ago. I saw a movie that opened the door to a new world of science fiction, faux-docudrama film-making while making various groundbreaking parallels to the world Academy Award nominated filmmaker Neill Blomkamp hailed from.
Now we fast forward to 2015, where Blomkamp has unveiled his new feature, Chappie. As I exited the theater following the screening of this movie, I had more of an urge than a feeling. I was urging to immediately forget that I wasted my time with this sloppy sci-fi feature that truly puts the artificial in artificial intelligence.
In Chappie, Blomkamp takes the world of District 9, which would be Blomkamp’s hometown of Johannesburg, and puts a Short Circuit/Frankenstein twist on how Blomkamp sees the social structure on the world that is represented by Johannesburg.
As human’s acted as the law-enforcement force upon the alien refugees residing in the capital of South America, robots act as the law-enforcement force upon the citizens. These robots think and act as police-officers and they are effective, but Chappie is different.
Chappie is the first robot who is given his own identity via artificial intelligence and he comes to terms with his environment like a child, thinking and learning as he grows smarter, but all the title character accomplishes is negated by the stagnant and woefully written world that he occupies, the characters who interact with him and the direction of the film itself, which undoubtedly confirms my suspicions: Neill Blomkamp is not in a slump; he is in a (pardon my language) GODDAMN FREE FALL!!!
I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the credits when this movie ended. “Directed by Neill Blompkamp”?! No way. This tacky, soulless, muddling, cliche motion picture was made and co-written with his wife Terri Tatchell, from the same guy who directed District 9? I’m amazed that this is what he has reduced himself and his caliber of work too. It’s shaming, if you ask me.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Sharlto Copley was cast in the lead role/title character. He provides the voice and, I believe I could be mistaken, the motion capture performance of Chappie, but there is just no connection with this character in the same way audience could connect to a character such as Caesar from Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Possibly because you can’t connect with a character with no eyes or expressive personality of his own and Chappie lacks both as a character and a movie.
The cast of characters around Chappie only worsen the appeal of this movie. The recognizable actors such as Dev Patel, Academy Award nominees Hugh Jackman and Sigourney Weaver are as shallow as a kiddie pool. Seriously, there is no depth or driving force behind these characters at all.
Patel is Deon, Chappie’s creator/part-time Jiminy Cricket. He establishes the AI software possible for Chappie to be unique but he is only in and out of the robot’s “life” because Chappie’s “family” have other ideas for the robot’s future.Let’s discuss the family shall we? Maybe Blomkamp is a fan of the South African rap-rave group Die Antwoord because that is the only reason I can come up with as to why Blomkamp added Ninja and Yolandi Vi$$er to this movie. Anyway Ninja and Yolandi play “mommy and daddy” to Chappie because they need him to help pull off a heist that can get them out of trouble, but it is so awkward watching them be gangsters and teach Chappie to be gangster because time is being spent wondering who these guys are, where they came from and why the hell are they in this movie?
Jackman is the one-dimensional bad guy Vincent Moore, who wants to implement military grade weaponry into this police “drone” system, i.e. a walking tank that could have been seen on District 9 and mistaken for alien technology, and Weaver is…does it really matter if she is only in this movie because she wants to test the waters on working with Blomkamp for that new Alien project he will be working on? I don’t know.
The writing of Chappie is obviously so haphazard and goes off the rails on so many occasions. First Deon, creates the software for artificial intelligence, that’s never a bad sign that something horrible is about to happen, then these two awkward small-time crooks get into trouble and magically come up with a way to get out of it by hijacking a robot to pull off a big-time heist, then Chappie “grows up” in a gangster environment, Moore sees an opportunity to use Chappie as a platform to get his “Moose” operational, all hell breaks loose, bottom line when you try to hope that this movie will make sense, it doesn’t.
Cinematographer Trent Opaloch and editors Julian Clarke and Mark Goldblatt offer the same visual appeal as Blomkamp’s prior films, partially because Opaloch and Clarke have worked with Blomkamp in the past. I don’t know what to make of Emily Roux and Bobby Cardoso’s art direction; the graffiti at Ninja and Yolandi’s hangout was some of the weirdest stuff I’ve ever seen.
Blomkamp is simply using the same techniques, the same setting, same plot to convey the same political message: in a harsh and cruel environment, those with power will use that power to keep the powerless in line and will go out of their way to stamp out anyone that is special, but Chappie attempts to tread into some philosophical waters regarding the idea of souls and existence only to make a mockery of it in the end, where they try to resurrect Yolandi.
Chappie has all the warning signs of a mechanical failure from the start of the feature and audiences cannot wait for it to be over. Equal parts over the top, equal parts senseless and entirely artificial to the letter, is the film that confirms that Neill Blomkamp needs to find something new to explore before his career cannot escape the downward spiral it has found itself in: Chappie.