The more films that Neill Blomkamp makes, the more it becomes apparent that he doesn’t really have anything serious to say with his work. Science fiction is a great mode for social commentary, but it appears as if Blomkamp is much more interested in the visual aesthetic of his movies than the messages he’s sharing with them. It’s okay to not have anything to say, but don’t pretend that you do if you don’t. With District 9 and Elysium, Blomkamp’s previous works, there were some simple real-life parallels that Blomkamp appeared to be commenting on. With District 9 especially, we ignored some of the logical flaws and divergences in the supposed commentary because there’s not a lot of good science fiction and we assumed that a foreign director that sets a movie in South Africa has his reasons everything. With Chappie, it becomes apparent that these moments in his previous films may have just been sloppy missteps that we chose to ignore.
Chappie takes place in future Johannesburg (District 9’s location) where the police force employs automated robot policemen. Deon (Dev Patel), the programmer of this robot intelligence, has created another program that will be able to give robots consciousness. Unfortunately, the military tech company that he works for will not allow him to test the program on a broken robot because of liability reasons, so Deon steals the robot. After Deon is kidnapped by the overarching B-plot, both metaphorically and literally, he tests the program on the broken robot, and Chappie is born. Chappie’s battery will run out in mere days though, and there’s no way to charge him. That’d be an interesting way to discuss mortality and the dichotomy between good and evil, right? Blomkamp does nothing with it, choosing to focus instead on style and plot points.
The most fascinating aspect of this movie is the aforementioned overarching B-plot. Musical duo Die Antwoord (composed of members Ninja and Yo-Landi) play Ninja and Yolandi, some drug dealers who, teamed up with Amerika (Jose Cantillo), need to make 20 million Rand to pay off the local crime boss. They kidnap Deon and become the focus of the story when their characters are not at all set up to be at the forefront of the movie. Ninja and Yo-Landi are not great actors. For musicians, they do a fine job (Yo-Landi is somewhat better than Ninja), but they’re still not very good. They are fascinating to watch though. I wasn’t familiar with Die Antwoord before seeing this movie, and I definitely listened to a lot of their music afterwards. I’m not sure I like them as musicians, but they’re addicting to listen to and watch because there is so much shock value and absurdism packed into their performances. However, the surrealistic nature of their music videos are not present in Chappie, and Ninja and Yo-Landi aren’t given the opportunity to showcase their forte. Which is weirdness. A majority of the entertaining moments of the film come from them, but they seem so uncomfortable and out-of-place.
Hugh Jackman plays the villain of the movie, and the film makes sure to let you know straight away that he’s pure evil. In the opening montage of the film, Jackman’s character, Vincent Moore, is shown with his alternative to the police robots, called “The Moose”. And it’s the exact same design as ED209 from RoboCop. I guess that could be described as an homage, but it definitely took me out of the film. It’s seemed cheap to me that Hugh Jackman’s character immediately loses any sympathy when he promotes one of the most famous evil robots in cinema history. Sigourney Weaver’s in this movie. She doesn’t do much. Sharlto Copley does a great job as the voice of Chappie though, and provides the only legitimate emotional beats of the story.
Without knowing that Blomkamp directed this film, you’d be able to figure it out pretty quickly. Stylistically, it’s incredibly similar to Elysium and District 9. That’s okay I guess, but Chappie is significantly weaker than both of his previous films. The special effects are well done, but the script needs massive reworking. For some reason, it seems almost dishonest to the audience to have a script so one-dimensional and manipulative. The ideas stopped as soon as the premise started. 4/10.