Chappie, written and directed by Neil Blomkamp is a film that Blomkamp fans have come to expect from him. At its core is a brilliant concept, one that is a staple of Sci-fi films and Blomkamp approaches it in his own unique way and for the most part succeeds in his exploration of it, but with a story that doesn’t drive the film properly and a structure that does a disservice to its world and the characters means that Chappie is a film that comes with some major issues.
Chappie is the story of… well Chappie who is voiced by Sharlto Copley (District 9, Elysium) and his creation/growth as the first ever Artificial Intelligence. Chappie begins life as a Police support robot but due to some unforeseen situations he ends up in the hands of some unique individuals, criminals to be exact. It is here that Chappie is installed with the first ever AI and we watch as he not only learns who he is but what the world is and what his place is in it.
The thing that should obviously be touched on first is what is probably this film’s crowning achievement, Chappie. Blomkamp expertly brings a character that is a defunct Police robot with the personality of a child to life in such a way that you can’t help but fall in love with his funny little quirks and devotion to being a good person. Though the development of Chappie isn’t as nuanced or as fleshed out as I would have expected/liked it to have been, there is still something in the construct of Chappie that is endearing. It’s all about growth when it comes to Chappie and we certainly get that, from a confused, childlike state, to the hero of our story, the development of Chappie is one of the few rewarding elements of the film. I would have in fact preferred it if the film had actually stripped away a lot of the excess baggage that it comes with and focused much more on the character of Chappie but with that very mush not being the case, I took what I could get.
Which leads onto the main problem with Chappie, the film tries to do too much and never focuses on the great little things that it already has going for it. The plot in Chappie is one prime example; the story is all over the place and has absolutely no cohesion. Blomkamp tries to have philosophical teaching with Chappie, alongside a bank truck heist and also the politics and shady goings on within the company that builds the police robots. Most of it isn’t interesting and only detracts from more time getting to explore the character of Chappie.
It’s frustrating because like I said Blomkamp not only has a great concept to work with but he nailed the character within that concept, so for him to go forward and not give enough care and attention to nurturing it means that he fails to deliver on what the film hints at giving us in the beginning. Blomkamp could have easily stripped away all of the unnecessary side stuff and just focused on Chappie’s journey and the film would have benefited greatly from it.
Next to Chappie is a supporting cast of characters, who like the story don’t serve the film correctly. Hip hop stars and members of the band ‘Die Antwood’, Ninja and Yo-Landi play characters of the same name in the film and are characters that are not endowed with much depth, the two are very base line characters and both were characters I found delivered nothing interesting or relatable to work with. Chappie’s creator in the film ‘Deon Wilson’ is played by Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire, Newsroom) and like the others is a character of very little depth, bumbling from scene to scene, delivering simple and dull exposition, Deon serves as little more than a vehicle for the character of Chappie to be explained in laymen terms. Probably the biggest disappointment in the film though was the villain of the story Vincent Moore played by Hugh Jackman (X-Men, Les Miserable). Moore is a bad guy with motivations that are weak and whose plan is bizarre and so under developed it becomes comically bad after a while.
Neil Blomkamp for some reason felt the need to add in so much superfluous content to Chappie and he really didn’t need too. Something that backs this theory up for me is the film Ex_Machina which released earlier this year in the UK (check out my review of that film here). Director and writer Alex Garland took a concept somewhat similar to Chappie and he explored it in a much more meaningful and fascinating way and unlike Chappie it came with no unnecessary baggage, subtle storytelling and a deeper exploration of the idea of Artificial Intelligence is what Garland focused on.
What might be the biggest failing in Chappie is something that Blomkamp repeats in terms of storytelling that he first did in Elysium, that being that he breaks the rules of his world near the end of his film and then never explores it properly or at all for that fact. Now I’m not going to spoil what that thing is in Chappie as it is a major plot spoiler, all I will say is that near the end of the film Blomkamp does something that completely turns the rules of his world upside down and instead of addressing it he just glosses over it and because of it I felt a little cheated, something so world changing should not be used as a quick fix just so that you can wrap the film up in a nice little bow.
It saddens me how much I’ve had to criticise Chappie, not only because I still trust that Neil Blomkamp is a director that should be believed in and that the type of films that he does are ones that people should be excited for when they are announced/released (ala Christopher Nolan or David Fincher) but also because that Chappie is a film that still has some brilliance in it, there is something sweet about the character of Chappie and I think Blomkamp more or less achieved what he was trying to do with him it’s just a shame that, like I’ve said countless times in this review the brilliance gets lost in the flashing lights and the noise.
I personally, despite my issues with the film am still going to recommend Chappie, yes this film is wrought with issues but there’s something about Chappie that I feel people should still take the time to see it, the film doesn’t completely fail, there are still moments that are worthy of experiencing, all I would say is that you should taper your expectations massively and prepare to not get the overall experience that you and the film Chappie deserve.