There is a trick to making Sci-Fi films. As a director, you have to let the audience in, allow them to explore the imaginative world you have created. Be it the possibility of an alien race invading earth, a world occupied by superheroes or a robot built with a human conscience. When Neill Blomkamp first directed District 9, fans of the genre rejoiced as it was something offbeat and heart-warming. Unfortunately, his latest venture, Chappie, goes on to test both your patience and your ability to believe in the extraordinary. The film is bogged down by its incoherent storytelling and annoying characters. The film still manages to work at certain levels, thanks mostly to Sharlto Copley‘s portrayal of Chappie.
There are two conflicting plotlines at work here. The first is where a young engineer named Dion Wilson (Dev Patel) is getting all the praise in the world for creating the cop-robots that help curb the crime in Jo’berg. This essentially pisses off Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman), who works for the same company and he wants to use the funding to push his own mind-controlled killing machine. Dion, on the other hand, wants to go a step further and allow the cop-robots to think, feel and be creative just like humans. He finally cracks it and installs the latest firmware on a robot who gets named Chappie.
It all feels interesting right up till here when the film’s second and utterly stupid plotline comes into play. The robot is stolen from Dion and kept in the care of gangsters (who just happen to be the worst actors ever). Yolandi and Ninja, who are members of the band Die Antwoord in real life, become Chappie’s foster parents. They end up turning the AI robot into a thug who steals cars and hurts humans. All that potential just goes down the drain. What was Neill Blomkamp thinking? A good portion of the movie is spent with the robot learning gangster slang and generally turning into a giant A-hole.
Dev Patel is just bad. That pretty much sums up his role. Anyone could have played Dion Wilson and would have done a million times better job than him. Hugh Jackman, on the other hand, has a palpable intensity throughout the movie, and you want to see more of him. We don’t get that. We get very less of Sigourney Weaver as well. So, what could have been a powerful, character-driven movie is now resting on the shoulders of inexperienced actors who are given hammy dialogues and multi-colored guns to play with.
Chappie’s design, however, is brilliant. Though not completely original, it does a lot for the robot’s character. Especially the rabbit-ear antennae and digitally-pulsating eyes and mouth. Sharlto Copley, so far, has been in all three of Blomkamp’s films. And while many believe he was miscast in Elysium as the villain Kruger, as Chappie, Copley finds a unique voice akin to a child. These are the moments you will enjoy the most – when Chappie is trying to think for himself. In one scene, he watches an old He-Man cartoon and mimics the hero. You cannot help but smile at the innocent candor of the robot.
Hans Zimmer‘s music brings out the best in many of the action sequences. The special effects are also noteworthy. But in the end, even these fail to salvage the plot, which is quite evidently all over the place. Chappie has a lot of scope but sadly, none of the goods to leave a lasting impression. It’s a shame because the man behind the film has been pegged as the next James Cameron.
Why should you watch this film?
Chappie has a lot of soul as a film. But the inconsistencies in the plot ensure that you catch only glimpses of what the movie could have been. The end result is far from perfect and is reduced to drivel with the silly dialogues. But it is Chappie – the robot with artificial intelligence who drives the movie even during the bleakest moments. For him alone, the movie deserves a watch.