“I know you don’t understand, but it’s okay,” said Yo-Landi to Chappie.
Neill Blomkamp might be very impressing with his debut District 9, that gives a breakthrough insight to sci-fi storytelling with the amount of social commentary. Seemingly, a promising savant with visions was building a new empire in altering sci-fi blockbusters into a serious matter. However, he failed to show consistency in his ‘talent’; Elysium‘s being too preachy and cliched; wasting its big budget for a common blockbuster taste. With Chappie, Blomkamp attempts to clean slate; he returned to his District 9 homebase, Johannesburg, along with his fellow collaborators—actor Sharlto Copley and scriptwriter, Terri Tatchell, with lower budget. His goal is crystal-clear.
Same like District 9, Chappie is also an expansion of Blomkamp’s short feature titled Tetra Vaal. The titular character is a Scout, a manufactured humanoid police robot; the Scouts were built by South African’s leading robotic manufacturer to help Johannesburg’s police department to reduce violent and organized crime. The story revolves around some different corners: Deon Wilson (Dev Patel), the creator of Scouts, stole an out-of-order robot to implant his newly found artificial intelligence program; things got sour when he’s kidnapped by some in-debt lo-fi gangsters led by Ninja and Yo-Landi (played by their own self—members of local rap group, Die Antwoord). Their quarreling results in creation of the little robotic chap called Chappie (portrayed by Sharlto Copley via an astonishing performance capture), as a self-conscious robot that resembles a newborn. The thing is, both ‘parents’ of this baby Chappie have different visions: the gangsters want Chappie to be a hustler, yet Deon wants the other way.
Blomkamp refused to make it easy; he made the plot goes easy (too easy, I think) by adding more generic narrative conflict to each corner. The gangster must collect money to pay their debt to a local kingpin; while Deon got suffocated by his co-worker, Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman) who aimed to activate his bigger droid. Moose (that looks like some robot from RoboCop) to replace the Scouts.
If you think Chappie is about playing god, you might be wrong; it goes further than that. Unfortunately, the multi-layered narrative with multi-conflicts doesn’t work well; each layer overlaps other layer with shriveled knots in the end—causing plot holes and ridiculous story-telling in some parts. There’s no heavy political issue in Chappie, but the shades of social-commentary is still there although it’s only a glimpse; that makes the story a little compact—compact but not developed well.
There’s no real characterizations in Chappie but some shallow acknowledgement to their nature. I can’t feel Sharlto Copley as Chappie; through performance capture method, he manages to display the clumsiness of the robot, but that can be anyone else. He missed what he’s done in District 9, for sure. However, the worst part comes to Jackman’s Moore, whose only motive is only used to keep the story forward without adding significant insight to the story. Dev Patel and Sigourney Weaver are okay, only their characters don’t really have depths—just enough to keep the story populated. The most interesting characters are the gangster portrayed by Ninja and Yolandi Visser; they might be a little narcissistic and seems like some oldballs; but how they acted and reacted keeps Chappie alive; it’s great that they work for the music in Chappie in completing the work of Hans Zimmer.
In overall, Neill Blomkamp doesn’t really drop the ball—he’s still got the visions and the visuals. There’s nothing wrong with Chappie as an action Sci-fi film, but when it comes to adding some social comments (perhaps, not the real goal) Chappie fails to repeat District 9. However, it’s still an interesting movie to follow—it’s still got the fun thing but not the serious thing.
VERDICT: Chappie is a little less Blomkamp’s fun gangster ride through the suburbs of Joburg. It attempts to repeat District 9 in visuals and ideas; the result is: it fails immediately in ideas and survives a little bit more in visuals.
Sci-Fi, Action, Thriller Directed by: Neill Blomkamp Written by: Neill Blomkamp, Terri Tatchell Starred by: Sharlto Copley, Dev Patel, Hugh Jackman, Ninja, Yolandi Vi$$er, Sigourney Weaver Running Time: 120 mins Rated R for violence, language and brief nudity