In 2009, South African filmmaker Neill Blomkamp got international fame with District 9. It was a different take on the sci-fi genre. It cost around $30 million, and it got nominated for Best Picture, but lost to The Hurt Locker. Four years later, he made the mildly disastrous Elysium. Even though there were great ideas about the futuristic society and a solid performance by Matt Damon, it didn’t make up for its underdeveloped script, choppy action, and wasted talent from a gifted cast. Not to mention Jodie Foster’s awful performance and Sharlto Copley playing one of the most over-the-top villains I’ve ever seen. Now, Blomkamp has created his new disaster with Chappie. He comes up with some great ideas concerning humanity, but this is a wasted opportunity.
In the not-too-distant future, crime in Johannesburg, South Africa is at an all-time high. The government has come up with a solution: making a robot police force. Engineers have started making their own line of droids leading to the success. One day, Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) creates an AI that can have the ability to feel and think like humans. As he is about to test his new creation, a group of gangsters, led by Ninja and Yolandi (from the South African hip-hop group Die Antwoord), steal the droid from Deon. They become the “parents” of the droid who is given the name “Chappie”. Yolandi teaches him how to speak, but Ninja teaches him how to become violent, and become involved in his heists.
Meanwhile, Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman) realizes Chappie is a threat to humanity. He decides to shut him down with his creation, the MOOSE. This leads to an action climax as obnoxiously derivative as the rest of the movie.
For a move that costs $50 million, Chappie has a good use of visual effects. There is a possibility that Sharlto Copley would become the next Andy Serkis. He does excellent work bringing the mannerisms of the title character to life. If you make a movie that the audience doesn’t care about the characters whatsoever, there is definitely a problem. Not only that, the characters also come out as unlikeable. Not even with Hugh Jackman’s mullet makes his evil presence look startling, especially when he causes chaos throughout Johannesburg by shutting down every droid in one cringe-worthy scene. The two members of Die Antwoord, who are talented artists, are overplayed to the point where I almost had a headache. With a lot of talent from the cast wasted, the movie goes all over the place.
There are points in Chappie in which it seems to rip-off other sci-fi films. For instance, there is a subplot similar to E.T. involving a helmet that can be used to transfer someone’s consciousness to a robot. This is one of the most unpleasant movie-going experience I’ve ever had. I’m glad it’s over.
I hope Neill Blomkamp does something different after rebooting the Alien franchise.