After District 9 and Elysium, director Neill Blomkamp is back with his latest feature length film Chappie. Focussing on a lovable reprogrammed robot that is now capable to develop emotions, think and feel for himself, Chappie is supposed to tackle complex themes of humanity and answer questions about "what makes us human?".
Judging from the trailers however, Chappie feels very familiar in the way it pulls its strings. Looking much like a blend of E.T. and Short Circuit, it's finally time to find out whether there's more behind this cute robot to make Chappie truely worth watching or not.
In the near future, crime is patrolled by an oppressive mechanized police force. But now, the people are fighting back. When one police droid, Chappie, is stolen and given new programming, he becomes the first robot with the ability to think and feel for himself. As powerful, destructive forces start to see Chappie as a danger to mankind and order, they will stop at nothing to maintain the status quo and ensure that Chappie is the last of his kind.
Chappie is a movie whose premise and storyline utilize a formula that the usual movie goer will find very familiar: A charismatic, innocent, naive robot who develops emotions like a human being and stumbles into a variety of wacky situations that test his sense of moral and value for life. Movies like Short Circuit, Wall-E, The Iron Giant or even E.T. will quickly come to mind. And while there's nothing wrong with once again using such a premise, adding your own ideas and tributing the aforementioned other works that obviously inspired you, Chappie sadly comes off as one of the most by-the-numbers, generic and bland movies to tackle such a big question like "what makes us human?".
With that said, there are many reasons why Chappie fails to bring something new to the table in regards to its "humanity"-theme and why it comes off so bland, predictable and as a result extremely forgettable.
|So, I guess before it all started, Chappie was actually a "robocop".|
Probably the biggest reason why Chappie wasted its potential is the way its storyline is structured.
Somewhat of a false marketing, different than what the trailers made people believe, Chappie's story actually doesn't revolve around him spending time with his maker Wilson only to later being dragged off and manipulated by criminals. Instead, the movie does not focus on a story that has its synthetic hero spent quality time with both good and bad people, but flatout only with the bad criminals.
Probably 1,5 hours of the 2 hour experience focus on Chappie being manipulated by a band of three drug dealers who try to raise the naive robot as a useful accomplice for their next coup.
Chappie himself is succesfully portrayed as a lovable, innocent being that always gets tricked and literally manipulated to do the criminal tasks and biddings for the gang's leader which (to make matters worse) he sees as his "daddy". And although it sure has its certain fun factor to see Chappie goof around and oftentimes fail in comedic ways when the criminal gang tries to teach him how to be cool and badass, this is pretty much the main and only entertainment content that viewers are served. Resultingly, Chappie pretty much is a one-trick-pony in that sense.
Yet while the movie is very confident (although probably a bit over-confident) in the way it wants to entertain people through comedy, the fact that you don't care a single bit about the people he is around practically destroys any tension or meaningful dramatic weight throughout the movie. With only Chappie's creator Wilson and maybe the female gang member Yolandi (his "mother") being the only characters aside from Chappie that you care about, the movie has an astounding lack of people to relate to.
|"Manipulating a robot to make him a gangster - the movie".|
Furthermore, with Chappie spending most of the running time with his criminal "family", this sadly diminishes any chance for the movie to really put Chappie into any sort of moral dilemma. Aside from the fact that most of Chappie's moral structure therefore instantly comes from the bad influence from the drug dealers, throughout the movie Chappie never gets into any sort of situation that demands that he uses his sense for "right or wrong" to make the right choices. You never find out whether Chappie can act like a thinking human or whether he can handle difficult decisions. Once again, it all comes down to Chappie being innocent and lovable but basically being only manipulated the entire time by the drug dealers without ever learning anything that is actually true. Why? Again, because he spends most of the time with his drug dealer "family". Meanwhile, his creator Wilson remains in a far more passive role most of the time. Located in his office, he tries to get Chappie out of his captive situation but is always interrupted when trying to teach Chappie things.
Sure enough, the movie tries to balance the over-focus on bad influences on Chappie through the occasional visits by his creator Wilson and his somewhat loving mother figure Yolandi. But seeing that even she is introduced into the movie as the same kind of drug abusive gangster that is willing to kill people to get what she wants, she also makes it a hard task to genuinely care for her.
|Don't expect any tough moral choices for Chappie to make.|
However, in some occasions the movie actually does try to tackle its core theme about humanity head on. Yet the way the movie just so blatantly tries to shove the messages it tries to convey directly into your face makes it hard to take any of them seriously. Like working itself through a checklist of what terms and words need to be said in order to get the messages across, there are occasional conversations in the movie where it gets extremely obvious that they have only been written in to force in some sort of deeper meaning into the movie. Unfortunately though, it's all handeled way too heavy handedly and too sproadically. Yelled phrases like "Never let them take away your creativity!" just come off as overly preachy and cringeworthy in the process and somewhat make each attempt the film does to make itself seem intelligent and deep just come off as pathetic.
This is only underlined by how manipulating the movie itself is in creating sympathy and empathy from the audience towards Chappie. Even despite the fact that Chappie indeed is a charismatic lovable robot, the movie overdoes it in so many ways that it becomes comical. Constantly playing violins in the background during tragic scenes, Chappie's very own innocent child-like behaviour, and even Chappie's design with his antennas resembling dog-like ears (so that you are sure to always clearly know what Chappie feels) are all aspects to somewhat force emotions and messages into the audience. It wouldn't be an overexaggeration to call Chappie the most unsubtle movie out of director Neill Blomkamp's works to date.
|"Never let them take away your creativity!" - Enough! We got it already!|
Aside from the heavy problems surrounding Chappie's storyline and script, there isn't that much to talk about the acting itself. Dev Patel as Chappie's creator Wilson does fairly well yet is (as already mentioned) clearly underused in terms of interaction with Chappie himself.
The returning favorite actor in Neill Blomkamp's repertoire, Sharlto Copley as Chappie, also does a respectably good job in making Chappie genuinely feel like an insecure and innocent robot that is easy to like.
The weirdest casting choice however has to come down to the choice of actors playing the drug dealer gang. For some weird reason, the movie casted two South African rappers (Watkin "Ninja" Tudor Jones and Yolandi Visser) to play Chappie's mother- and father figures (who somehow even carry the same name's of the actors stage names...?). Though those two give the best they can, it clearly shows that their acting capabilities are quite limited to say the least. They get the job of yelling and over-acting gangster done yet it's really nothing noteworthy.
|Whose bright idea was it to cast these two?|
Talking about not noteworthy performances, Hugh Jackman playing the movie's supposed antagonist Vincent Moore, is the epidemy of wasted potential in Chappie.
Though Hugh Jackman is not exactly a full-on powerhouse actor despite having his moments, his villain role in Chappie comes down to the absolutely most one-dimensional character in the entire flick. Throughout the entire movie, Vincent Moore's main and only goal is to shut down Chappie as he sees a threat in robots who can think for themselves and develop feelings. Whereas in some small parts Jackman's character indeed does shortly talk about his motivations in detail, his character was clearly supposed to be pose as some sort of relatable antagonist in the movie. After all, Vincent Moore is supposed to be a character that wants to keep humanity itself safe from rogue robots. This means that his character is actually supposed to be an antagonistic one whose motivations are nevertheless very human and relatable in a way. But of course the movie pretty much entirely fails to execute this concept. Instead, Vincent Moore becomes the movie's bad guy acting mostly through his office-computer who is simply maniacally focussed on disassembling and destroying Chappie. Aside from serving as the main villain in the final action showdown, it wouldn't be too far fetched to therefore call Jackman's character almost entirely worthless for the story and character development of the entire movie.
Oh, and regarding Sigourney Weaver, she is barely worth mentioning. She has probably a total of maybe 3 - 5 minutes of screentime in the entire movie.
|You will quickly forget that Jackman and Weaver were even in this movie.|
Effectswise, Chappie is of course at least visually quite appealing to look at. For all his inconsistent script-writing skills throughout his three feature films, Blomkamp has to be at least given credit though that his movie's all boast his certain trademark "dirty sci-fi" feel. While the robot effects in Chappie look very good, the movie once again features many sci-fi elements being set in the slums of a South African city, evoking fond memories of scenes from District 9 and Elysium.
Regarding the movie's action scenes though, it should be said that Chappie shouldn't be mistaken for a full-on action movie. As already mentioned, most of the movie's 2 hour running time is spend with watching Chappie getting taught lessons by his "mother and father" and being manipulated. The most notable action scene has to be the final showdown against Jackman's Vincent Moore, although even this respectably entertaining action scene is sloppily build up to. Thus, people expecting a good mix of drama and action like in District 9 will definitely be left disappointed.
|Of course there is also the obligatory "final boss fight".|
Overall, just like Neill Blomkamp's Elysium, Chappie is a movie that wants to tackle themes and answer big question about humanity through its admittedly lovable protagonist robot Chappie, but completely loses focus in the process and instead becomes the most self-absorbed, unsubtle and formulaic sci-fi drama the direcotr has created yet.
Instead of putting the innocent, child-like Chappie into interesting and difficult situations that demand for the robot's capability of making hard moral decisions, the entire movie basically only showcases Chappie getting bad influences and being manipulated through his criminal mother and father figures throughout most of the movie. Focussing pretty much only on making Chappie seem cute, abused and lovable, the movie very quickly loses focus on what its main theme and goal should be. Occasions in which the movie tries to approach its more dramatic and deeper themes are very rare and handeled very heavy-handedly coming off as incredibly preachy or cheesy in the process. Making matters worse are wasted A-list actors like Hugh Jackman that haven't been utilized in any fitting way they were supposed to.
Chappie sadly shows that Neill Blomkamp seems to have less and less to tell of substance with each of his movies. Chappie is a self-absorbed mess of a movie that showcases Blomkamp at his most unsubtle and preachiest way yet. Neither successful as a convincing sci-fi drama nor as an entertaining action movie, it's somewhat a sad accomplishment for Blomkamp to have created a movie even more forgettable than Elysium.
Final Verdict: 3 out of 10