"I am consciousness, I am alive, I am Chappie."
Director Neil Blomkamp has been praised as the latest addition to a string of legendary science fiction visionaries. His first big success District 9 was a success in every word, even being nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, his next film Elysium was slightly more divisive, looked upon favourably by most and as mediocre by others (myself included). But both boasted interesting stories and amazing visual effects. Chappie restores the universal balance by being disliked by nearly everyone (myself included).
In the near future police droids known as scouts are used on a mass scale by the government to maintain order. But, not content with his success their creator decides to work on a machine that can think and make decisions independently in the same way that a human can. However the company does not take kindly to his actions such as rival inventor (Hugh Jackman) who decide to take action against his creation, or as he has called it, Chappie.
One thing that must be immediately praised about Chappie is, well, Chappie. The titular character is wonderfully innovative and essential to the story as it progresses. From the machine we see development, comedy and all the backstory to make it a compelling character.
However this is ruined by the fact that the child like Chappie is taken in by criminal and becomes one, not as the trailer made us believe a robot that gets most of his morals from Saturday morning cartoons (like we did, am I right… no… just me then). Executed in the right way the criminal story could still emotional. But it isn’t so you almost loose sympathy for the most likable and well developed character in the film.
Though Chappie is aesthetically pleasing, with some truly spectacular special effects work and great interaction between the physical and the CGI aspects of the story, it has many, many flaws. The first of which is the characters and the way they are written. Hugh Hackman brings no distinctive or unique feel to the story’s main villain. Though he talks briefly about the ethics of robotics aside from that all of his actions are made without any justification or explanation. If he’s just in it the money then why doesn’t he just say that instead of –arsed monologue about robotic laws? If there’s something else behind it why is there no explanation.
The creator of the robot is your usual young man with a dream cliché and has no real opinion other than to create something and then protect it, why, what’s his personal connection with the concept to risk his life in order to find it. The acting on display from some of the supporting cast is abysmal to say the least. As the cheerful robot is on the run he hangs out with a group of criminals and their contribution needed to be reduced here a lot. It is just bad full stop, not bad as in not caring or over enthusiastic, it’s just painful to watch them on screen.
The plot also feels sharply and roughly drawn towards a final shootout that, though it is fun and well directed, is inevitable. The rush and need to steer the film towards this throughout means that Chappie cannot answer the questions it promised it would raise. The grasp of the writing cannot cope with the big questions the concept raised. But in an effort to steer clear of Elysium Blomkamp has taken a more talkative story here, which would be fine if the acting and characters were actually good, but they aren’t. Elysium was criticised for choosing action over examination, Chappie actually has less excitement than District 9, but with characters that are not as interesting or examine a large concept from an intimate point of view.
Just thinking about it now it hit me, Chappie is could have been the mainstream and successful Brad Bird’s Iron Giant. If you were disappointed by the direction Chappie took then you should check out that and find a better story about AI reacting to humans.
If the trailer promised you a grown up ET, all Chappie gives you is an elitist Transformers.