After the success of District 9 and Elysium, it seemed like director Neill Blomkamp was on a roll and nothing could very well stop him. He’s always had a way of creating a well-written story along with a new view on social commentary that always comes from an outside source. In the case of Chappie, Blomkamp tries doing too much. The story isn’t as compelling or as fluid as it could have been, regardless of how clever, innocent, and cute Chappie is.

Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) is an engineer who has come up with artificially intelligent robot cops who are helping to reduce the very high crime rate in Johannesburg. While successful, Deon has been working on a side project that would give the AI cops consciousness, so they can think and feel while on the job. On the other side of the spectrum is Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman), a man working for the same company, is intent on sending out militarized versions of the same robot cops. Except, he thinks a machine shouldn’t be the one making decisions and insists that his project is better because they’ll have a thinking human running the machine behind the scenes.

Enter Ninja, Yolandi, and Amerika (Ninja, Yo-Landi Visser, and Jose Pablo Cantillo), three people who owe a gangster (Brandon Auret) $20 million and have to hand it over in seven days. Thinking they’re especially clever by wanting to use one of the police robots to help them with a heist, they kidnap Deon to get what they want, not knowing that he’s gone behind his boss’s (Sigourney Weaver) back in order to test a new kind of robot. What they end up with is Chappie (Sharlto Copley), an artificially intelligent robot with a conscience.

The moral questions are laid out pretty early on in the film: artificial intelligence vs. consciousness, having brutal machines vs. thinking and feeling beings, and all the extra questions and opinions that go with it. Blomkamp has been nothing but good in portraying social issues from an outside perspective, here employing Chappie for this purpose. Whereas in his past films, the social issues and questions have been more prevalent, they do not take center stage in Chappie, which is indeed very disappointing.

Sharlto Copley does a fantastic job in growing Chappie from an innocent kid, to a wannabe gangster, to a decision-making semi adult. Chappie is the prime example of the innocence of society tarnished by the things which surround him and the lessons he learns. Dev Patel does a good job with what he’s given even though after a while, the story kind of moves away from him before coming back. He’s always in panic mode though and unfortunately his research is thrown out the window at some point, even if it’s the most interesting aspect of the film.

Hugh Jackman has no other dimension but mean. He’s an extremist in his goal to get what he wants and use his own machines and doesn’t really care about anyone who tries to get in his way. He and Patel have clear tension between each other and it’s dangerous when it shows up, but isn’t sustainable because the story isn’t focused enough on them. The story of the three characters attempting the heist doesn’t fit well with the rest of the film. It deters from the actual story and only serves as a distraction. This plot line feels contrived and tedious and doesn’t compliment what Blomkamp portrays early on. If the story had stayed on Patel and Jackman’s opposing arguments and struggles, it would have been much better off.

Chappie isn’t terrible, but is ultimately underwhelming. Out of Blomkamp’s three films, this one is definitely the weakest. The film definitely has its moments, but they are outshone by the weight of all the plotlines happening at once and the lack of focus on the more important themes of the film. Blomkamp’s pacing is mediocre, and outside of Chappie, there isn’t anything that really holds one’s attention. Even the finale feels a bit anticlimactic given everything that’s going on. Chappie is a film that means well and has a lot of fascinating ideas that Blomkamp just doesn’t develop very well.

Release Date: March 5, 2015 | Director: Neill Blomkamp | Screenwriters: Neill Blomkamp, Terri Tatchell | Cast: Hugh Jackman, Dev Patel, Sigourney Weaver, Ninja, Yo-Landi Visser, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Brandon Auret | Genre: Sci-Fi, Action | MPAA Rating: R for violence, language, and brief nudity

 

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About Author

Mae is a Washington, DC-based film critic, entertainment journalist and Weekend Editor at Heroic Hollywood. A member of the Washington, DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), she's a geek who loves discussing movies and TV. She is also a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. If she's not at the movies, she's catching up on her superhero TV-watching, usually with a glass of wine in hand.

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