Over the past few years, the name Neill Blomkamp has been embedded in the world of science fiction. The director made his way into this genre with his 2009 hit: District 9. Blomkamp would create another sci-fi film in the form of Elysium, which hit theaters in the summer of 2013. While this director's films have had a sense of style to them, I felt that both have lacked in areas; such as story and characters. It certainly did not help matters when Elysium's plot reflected concepts seen in District 9. Even with these issue, Neill continues to create more movies for the sci-fi genre. His latest movie, Chappie, takes moviegoers to a futuristic world and plays with the concept artificial intelligence. While the idea of robots having souls is always interesting, the trailers to this movie indicated that Chappie's themes would be similar to Blomkamp's previous work. While that might be the case, perhaps these elements could in fact work in favor of this new film.
The story of Chappie deals a futuristic Johannesburg;well 2016 to be precise. As the city see an insurgency of robotic police, inventor Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) seeks to take robots to the next level by giving one artificial intelligence. The result of Deon's work is the creation of a robotic scout named Chappie (Sharlto Copley). As Chappie starts his life as a true A.I, he soon finds himself in trouble as he is raised by gang members who seek to use him for their own benefits. If that was not bad enough, Deon and Chappie find themselves dealing with former military man Victor Moore (Hugh Jackman); who wants to use his own machine to patrol the streets of Johannesburg.
Chappie's plot did play with the always compelling idea of artificial intelligence. Unfortunately, the concept only got as far as looking good on paper. What could have prevented the idea from working? Why that would be the story's lack of execution in a good portion of its themes. While it was obvious that the movie wanted to capture the story a robot understanding life, the idea did not work. This is was due to the movie's lack of complexity as it seems that Blomkamp (once again) relied on story elements used in his previous films. It also did not that the movie had plot points that did not make any sense;such as why there was only one key card that activated the robots. The story to Chappie came off as something that was trying to be clever only for it to fail due to the plot featuring elements that were either not well thought out, or have just been done in previous movies.
The cast to the movie seemed to be solid enough featuring the likes of Sharlto Copley, Dev Patel and Hugh Jackman. Unfortunately, the characters of Chappie only objective in this film was to be as unlikable as possible. With the exception of Chappie, the characters to this film had two dimensions to them as they were either uninteresting or they were just cliched. The biggest culprit of these issues is the gangster Ninja (who is played by rap artist Ninja). This character would use Chappie throughout the entire film and did nothing to make himself redeemable or compelling. Yet we are suppose believe that Ninja is complex enough to have proper character development. Another character that was lacking in areas was the film's antagonist: Victor. This character had one motivation and that was to activate his monstrous robot; and that was it. While Hugh Jackman did the best he could, not even Jackman could make this character interesting. The characters mention being two dimensional was one thing, but even the protagonist Deon fell prey to this. Patel does the best that he can with Deon, but there was not much to this character to even consider him a protagonist.
Chappie was only the character who was effective as he came off as a misguided robot. Granted this kind of character has been done before and,unfortunately, those characters are leagues better then Chappie. Though Sharlto Copley did have a good voice performance as the young A.I. Still even with Copley's role, it just was not enough to hold this ensemble together.
If Neill Blomkamp's can do something right, it would be in the area of visual effects. Blomkamp's films have had a fantastic sense in the use of effects and Chappie was no exception. The effects to Chappie came off as a blend between practical effects and motion capturing. Whether that was the method behind this element or not , the visual effects to the movie really brought the robotic characters to life. The effects to the movie also went well with the film's cinematography, which is another element that tends to work for Blomkamp's movies. Also a highlight to the film was the score by Hans Zimmer. Though the score was not Zimmer's most impressive work, the music was still effective as it fit the movie's concept. The action to Chappie was not bad, but I felt that it could have been better. The issue I had with the action sequences was the direction behind them as the camera work in the scenes was distracting, which made it hard for me to pay attention to the moments.
I really wished that Neill Blomkamp would prove me wrong with Chappie. I hoped that this film could execute Blomkamp's consistent direction in a tolerable fashion. Unfortunately, this movie came off as old hat. Though performances were solid and the effects were impressive, it was not enough to save this film from being two dimension and just uninteresting. When it comes down to it, Chappie was just another movie from Neill Blomkamp; and that is not a good thing.