Thursday, March 12, 2015

[Review] Chappie

After blowing us away with District 9, Director Neill Blomkamp followed that up with Elysium, which was a step down but still a serviceable if muddled action/sci-fi outing. Unfortunately, Chappie is a step down even further and it misses more than it hits.

Set in a near future Johannesburg, the crime rate is so out of control that a highly advanced (and durable) robotic police force has been enlisted to patrol the gang-ridden streets. Meanwhile, the local tech company, headed by Sigourney Weaver is working every day to improve the bots. Here's where we meet Deon (Dev Patell), a young genius who is in the process of programming a device that can render the robots with a conscious, or make them as human-like as possible. Across the room is Vincent (Hugh Jackman), who is developing a giant war machine that just screams "bad idea." I hesitate to even discuss his character's relation to the plot, because it ends up being more of an obnoxious device, a cardboard bad guy, and a waste--despite the amusing mullet.

After Deon finishes his device, he's abducted by a group of hoodlums, which includes Ninja and Yolandi from the rap-rave group Die Antwoord. At first, the two seem almost incapable of not being corny, but surprisingly, Yolandi's oddball character sort of grows on you. Anyway, the gang wants to pull off a heist, and they force Deon to program a stolen police bot. This is where Chappie is born. Chappie awakens as innocent and childlike, but gets caught in a push-and-pull battle of good and bad.

The biggest problem with this film isn't necessarily the awkward casting of Die Antwoord, or Jackman's useless antagonism, but it's the fact that Chappie isn't as fresh and innovative as it wants to be. This doesn't mean A.I. isn't still a fascinating subject to explore, but a lot of the narrative beats here are incredibly similar to 2011's Robot & Frank and even last year's Big Hero 6--but to much less successful degrees. The good thing is that Chappie itself is likable and magnetic, and it looks fantastic. Sharlto Copley voices the bot and physically plays him with motion-capture technology, and the visual result is highly crisp, appearing like it really exists within the established world.

Chappie will stick out as a blunder in Blomkamp's filmography, seeming like an afterthought or a plan C of his first two films. And yet, he still remains as one of the more interesting directors to watch, considering his utopian aesthetics, knack for action sequences, and undertone-driven thinking. Maybe the Alien reboot is the direction he needs.


1 comment:

  1. I've been reading some really mixed stuff about Chappie and it's really dampened my enthusiasm for the whole thing. I was so excited to see this but now I'm not so sure - great review though, very balanced and fair :)