BY Louis Johnson
In 2009, Neill Blomkamp, relatively unknown at the time, released his directorial debut “District 9.” The film proved to be hugely popular and thrust the South African animator into the public eye. It was made on a budget of $30 million and grossed $211 million at the box office. It was considered a sleeper hit due to its immense popularity despite the cast and director being unknown, and later was nominated for an Academy Award.
But his second film, “Elysium,” released in 2013, received lukewarm reviews. The film threw into question whether Blompkamp was an exciting new director or just a one-hit wonder.
Now, Blomkamp’s 2015 release “Chappie” continues in that vein of disappointment.
It’s a film about artificial intelligence and follows a story line in the near future where the police force in South Africa has started using robots in place of police officers. The creator of the robot discovers a way to create a new AI that mimics human emotions and consciousness. He then places this AI in a damaged police robot, who becomes Chappie, the titular character of the movie.
While “Chappie” has all the pieces of a great movie, it clumsily fumbles with them and doesn’t know how to piece itself together.
The movie has great visuals. Blomkamp proves once again he understands the nuance involved in great CGI. By mixing them with enough practical effects, the CGI blend seamlessly with the on-location footage on screen. He also has a great understanding of visual image. The sets are rich and the characters’ costumes fantastic.
The themes of the movie are intriguing, but Blomkamp never pulls it together with his sloppy script. While the actors give at least decent performances, they fall as a result of it. Characters often act irrationally or will shift motivations simply for plot convenience. For example, one of the main characters is hostile to Chappie at first. Yet, near the end of the movie he decides he likes Chappie with zero development in the story to explain the shift.
The script is the movie’s Achilles heel, and it takes the entire film down. Only good ideas are in place, but none of them are executed well. Themes are introduced and dropped quickly.
The movie suffers from a case of “Spider Man 3” syndrome and throws in way too many plot points and characters, none of which have a satisfying payoff. Themes of poverty, crime, police brutality, childhood, human nature, artificial intelligence and human transcendence are all introduced, but the movie doesn’t have anything memorable to say about them.
“Chappie” has great ideas, but once they are placed into the script, the story intended to connect these ideas feels weak. It ends up dragging down the great cinematography and effects. Overall, the plot is comical. It’s impossible to take seriously. The characters are all goofballs; none of them are well-rounded. Without any character development, audience members cannot find anything to invest in.
Despite boasting some great visual effects, there is no real content to “Chappie.” It’s just flashy imagery tied together with a poor story that thinks it’s more intelligent than it really is.