“My mommy doesn’t hate me! Because I’m special! And unique! Because there’s never been anyone like me before, ever!”
-David (Artificial Intelligence)
Writer-director combos are more and more common in film today. When District 9 became a smash hit, it seemed another writer-director had landed onto the mainstream landscape, but after Elysium and Chappie, maybe we were wrong. Neil Blomkamp’s visual skill and technical ability are undeniable, but his writing has proven to be problematic. His lackluster writing might be ending his viability as a writer-director combo. This doesn’t mean he’s finished making movies, but it does seem his freedom to make original properties is all but gone.
Chappie is a robot who is given 100% pure artificial intelligence. His maker Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) sees his creation lost to a group of low-life criminals played by the real life rap duo Die Antwoord (Ninja and Yo-Landi Visser) and Jose Pablo Cantillo. Hugh Jackman stars as Vincent Moore, Deon’s peer engineer. Moore is jealous at the success of Deon’s robotic police force and sets out to sabotage him and his creation.
One of the weakest parts of the film is its hideous acting. Dev Patel’s and Sigourney Weaver’s characters are some of the dumbest to see the big screen. They both make highly illogical decisions. While Jackman’s performance is fun, Moore’s motivations are extremely problematic. At one point he pulls a firearm and aims it directly into the face of a co-worker with absolutely no repercussion. Ninja and Yo-Landi are on totally opposite ends of the acting spectrum. Ninja should stick to music. His lack of nuance and skill are clearly evident. Yo-Landi on the other hand is by far the best non-robot performance in the movie. In fact, I would say if the story revolved around her relationship with Chappie, this film would have been significantly better.
Chappie isn’t necessarily as abysmal as critics or myself may make it seem. The special effects and action flow seamlessly throughout the film, and Sharlto Copley’s performance as Chappie is magical. Chappie as a character isn’t necessarily original, but does feel unique. His immature sweetness is a breath of fresh air. Copley’s voice affectation is impressive and does a lot to give us empathy for Chappie. There are interesting hints of Christian themes and other spiritual analogies, but unfortunately the film never grabs hold of these thoughts.
The biggest failure of the film is Blomkamp’s writing. Chappie has more plot holes and conventional narrative devices than anything you’ll see this year. Piling on all of this is Blomkamp’s overt political statements. District 9 was subtle with its great take on apartheid, but Chappie‘s attack on the 1% narrative is a bit much. Chappie‘s script feels like a first draft. It’s as if Blomkamp had a bag of ideas and just pulled them out one by one and tried to make it work.
Overall, I can’t say Chappie wasn’t fun or emotional because there was enough there for my enjoyment, but as a complete work of art it just doesn’t finish what it sets out to achieve. With its failed script and gigantic plot holes it’s bound to drive you crazy. But if you can look past some of the more silly aspects of the film, there is entertainment to be had. Blomkamp’s special effects and camera work are on par with anyone in the business. Chappie’s relationship with Yo-Landi is touching and worth the price of a ticket. Blomkamp’s next film is rumored to be a sequel to Alien. Let’s all hope someone else writes it.