Release Date: March 6th, 2015 (UK and US)
Genre: Action; Science-fiction; Thriller
Starring: Shartlo Copley, Dev Patel, Hugh Jackman
As Chappie gets under way atop a wave of rolling news clips and documentary-style snippets, there’s a vague familiarity in the air. We soon meet Dean (Dev Patel), a quirky and smart employee, and shortly thereafter encounter the film’s titular robot (Sharlto Copley). The two become entrenched in a rebellion against corporate injustice, where agendas are warped by power and economics. There is a CEO overlord (Sigourney Weaver) with iffy morals and a brash militant understudy (Hugh Jackman) with iffier intentions, and it doesn’t take long for our artificially intelligent robot to intertwine with humanity’s complexities.
If you can hear any bells ringing in your mind at this point, it is because Chappie is another Neill Blomkamp film wrapped up in the woes of society and class and science. It’s District 9. It’s even sort of Elysium. The thematic content isn’t bad at all — the director has proven in the past that exploring societal issues can be a rewarding experience. Rather, Blomkamp’s third film struggles because it doesn’t differentiate itself from his previous two.
Nor does Chappie click tonally. We’re in a constant kinetic flux, the tone jumbled and jumping around too much, a problem embodied by our central machine who manifests as a bubbly toddler one minute and a gun-wielding lunatic the next. The robot doesn’t garner enough empathy to start with because he (it’s male, apparently) has never been a human. But the disconnect is ultimately established due to Chappie’s lack of identity. A human character can get away with this lack of identification because we can relate to a person more than a robot. It is possible for an AI character to do the same — Alicia Vikander manages without personality in Ex Machina — but not in this instance. Chappie, voiced fairly well by Sharlto Copley, is at his most engaging when he’s acting up; a car-jacking scene is one of the film’s few brilliant moments, almost as culturally reflective as it is hilarious.
Generally though, the bits and pieces that make up the film are all a bit weird. As former soldier Vincent, Hugh Jackman (despite being an entertaining watch) looks like he is about to film a Steve Irwin biopic. The South African duo, a musical group known as Die Antwoord, don’t fit into the gritty urbanised world. They belong in a Tim Burton fantasy adventure, though on the basis of their performances here, that won’t be happening any time soon. For some reason, Sigourney Weaver — who will be teaming up with Blomkamp again for his upcoming Alien revival — is underused as a plain company figurehead.
On the more reality-mirroring side of things, we see capitalist manipulation: “It’s expensive, it’s big and it’s ugly,” is the reply Vincent receives as he tries to sell army-ready machines to the army (we’re subsequently left to wonder why money isn’t being thrown at him). A thematic favourite of Blomkamp, machine intelligence versus human ideology, fuels an underbelly that is certainly justified given the postmodern technological surroundings, yet never really amounts to much. Had they not been made in such close proximity to one another, you would be forgiven for thinking the folks behind Chappie were privy to Wally Pfister’s Transcendence in relation to ideas on concluding. Despite that movie’s many shortcomings, it is actually better and more accomplished than Chappie.
On an aesthetic front, the post-industrial setting is a good one, however instead of being a vehicle for entrapment, the relentlessly murky and dank atmosphere quickly becomes a trend-setter for the bland story unfolding (pathetic fallacy gone wrong). There are some impressive slow motion shots employed during the action sequences that reverberate well with the film’s technological arc. In fact, Trent Opaloch’s cinematography is a success — in purely visual terms the film does its job. Opaloch worked on Blomkamp’s previous two outings as well as The Winter Soldier, and his notable efforts have earned him a spot on the next Captain America film too.
Unfortunately, the visual aspect can’t quite rescue Chappie from a messy final third. The film slowly saunters along towards a fairly energetic conclusion but by then we’re sitting wondering why we should care. There are so many different parties involved in the action at the end that it feels like the battle of the five armies all over again. In screenplay terms, this wholly contrived finale is just about the final nail in a coffin of banality and nonsensicalness.
Chappie isn’t a bad film, but at some point Blomkamp needs to change things up or else risk artistic homogenisation. He is obviously a talented filmmaker; the simple fact that his films have something pertinent to say about how we live, have lived and might live is testament to his skill level. But after two solid outings, Chappie feels like a step backwards. It’s almost as if the director who once challenged the norm has conformed to it.
Images credit: IMP Awards, Collider
Images copyright (©): Columbia Pictures
20 thoughts on “Chappie (2015)”
I went to see Chappie in San Jose one day before our flight onto Tahoe. I wanted to see The Liam Neeson/Ed Harris Taken-esque one but I was out-voted.
I was really glad to see Dev Patel get a chance to shine. He’s great in the Brit comedies, but he’s more than that and I thought he was good. My favourite scene was Hugh Jackman getting the shit beaten out of him by Chappie in the office as Sigourney Weaver just grabs her coat and jacket and gives off the “Am I fuck sticking about for this” run.
But the whole film was kinda over shadowed by the fact that I HATE the South African accent. So it was torture and the name Chappie has been ruined for me. That’s my take sir, tip top review as always!
I haven’t seen the new Neeson flick either. Apparently it got some half-decent reviews!
Dev Patel is such an engaging watch – he was excellent in The Newsroom – but I didn’t feel like there was much for him to sink his teeth into here.
Jeez, those Die Antwoord folk must’ve really got on your nerves then! Cheers Kenny.
Nice write up Adam. I didn’t really like Chappie but did fine bits of it enjoyable, particularly when Blomkamp started having a little fun with the robot/gangsta hybrid. There were the roots of a half-decent comedy there, perhaps, but ultimately it was a bit of a mess.
Yep – the robot/gangsta part was my favourite sequence. You’re right, too much going on when it would’ve been better to stick with just one or two genre areas. Much appreciation Stu!
A very strange movie, but I’ll take strange over boring any day. Especially when you’re working in the sci-fi genre. Nice review.
I think I was a bit bored by it at times. Just never quite clicked with me! Thanks Dan.
I’m actually in the minority who loved this film haha. I had a load of fun with it despite it’s flaws.
Good write-up as always!
I might be judging it too harshly in relation to District 9 and Elysium, but I just wanted something different. Glad you loved it though – it’s definitely not a bad film! Thanks man.
I wouldn’t call Elysium solid at all, so for me Blomkamp seems like a one-hit-wonder so far.
“…It’s almost as if the director who once challenged the norm has conformed to it” It’s too bad really, given how intriguing & provocative D-9 was.
Yeah, Elysium wasn’t brilliantly received either. I quite liked it, but District 9 is definitely his stand out pic to date. Hopefully he’ll be back on his game with Alien! Thanks for stopping by Ruth.
Not good, not good at all. A very fair assessment.
Bit of a shame. I’m hoping the Alien gig will re-energise Blomkamp, because he can be really good.
Love that finishing line Adam, it kind of sums up my thoughts and concerns about him going forward. There was a lot to admire about Chappie, but I think the ratio between that and what was absolutely ludicrous was definitely more in favor of the latter!
My main gripe with it was more surface-related. Previously Blomkamp has demonstrated his disdain for the human race, and that’s for sure evident here. It was obnoxious actually. In my view, Jackman comes off as a cartoon, the male half of Die Antwoord was annoying and anyone else who didn’t have a major part in Chappie’s ‘life’ was also just a jerk. I couldn’t get into it. This film was very cold to me. Again, I think we both belong in the category of those who have judged this film harshly but I feel like there’s a valid reason for that. We can see everywhere where Blomkamp should have zigged where he instead zagged, to use a lame expression.
Cold. That’s a pinpoint summation of Chappie. It’s a very distant, odd film. None of the characters are all that likeable and the robot itself (or himself) doesn’t exactly charm the pants off. Blomkamp is good, he just need to get away from this socio-alien-machine stuff. Thanks Tom!
I have yet to see a Blomkamp film that I have enjoyed, and that is sad because he is local and all that. He isn’t a bad director, per se, but goodness, his stories?! All over the show. As for Chappie? The minute we heard that Die Antwoord was carrying the story, I think we all sort of wrote it off. I need to get to this at some stage, if just to bitch to Luke about the accents.
That’s a good point — he definitely is not a bad director (I liked Elysium), but his act is becoming a tad stale I think. I really don’t want to be mean or anything, but Die Antwoord really didn’t cut it the mustard here. Haha, bitch away!
Pffffff, really not being mean. They are NOT popular here at home AT ALL. Ugh. What idiots. And what was Blomkamp thinking?! When we heard that they were featuring in the movie, we were all apprehensive, but when we heard that those two were pretty much carrying the film? And potential interest and hope went right out the window.
They just really irritated me! It was a derisory casting decision, not sure what the thinking was behind their appointment(s). Ach well!