Like a Broken Robot, Chappie Just Doesn’t Work

Neill Blomkamp made a sudden appearance onto the filmmaking scene back in 2007 with his directorial work on a series of commercials promoting Halo 3. He was then quickly tapped to direct the then-in-development live-action Halo film, but after that project fell through, he went to work on what would become District 9, which, in this reviewer’s humble opinion, proved to be one of the most entertaining action movies of the last 10 years. Unfortunately, he has yet to replicate that success, even with his latest effort, Chappie.

Chappie, for those who have somehow avoided being inundated by the plethora of advertisements for the film, takes place in the near future when Johannesburg police utilize a squad of robotic police units to quell the uncontrollable violence in the area. One of the engineers on the project, though, has bigger plans, and inserts an advanced A.I. into one of the robots, named Chappie. Through a strange series of events, Chappie must come to terms with morality, his own conciseness, and the corporation that wants to put him out of commission.

On paper, that sounds like an awesome idea, rife with philosophical exploration and cool robot action sequences. Unfortunately, a lot of different things bog down this film, making it less than what it could be. The strangest part of Chappie, though, is that I walked out of the theater having not liked the film, but having a very hard time figuring out why.

There are plenty of little things that I can point to that bugged me about the movie – Yolandi and Ninja of the band Die Antwood play a prominent part in the film, and let’s just say there’s a reason they’re not actors. Their music is also featured throughout the film, which is fine and fitting, but they’re just not interesting on screen.

Of course, part of the problem is that the character work in this film is very poor. No one really has any clear motivation, and the decisions that people make make no sense whatsoever, even within the confines of their character. It’s never explained why Deon, Chappie’s maker, is so invested in Artificial Intelligence, or why he thinks it would be a good idea to bring this technology to the weapons manufacturing company that employs him. Or why his rival at the company is trying to sell a multi-billion dollar walking tank to the police and not the military. Or why the company only has one “guard key” usb device for updating the robots firmware, and why anyone at the company can just grab it without any supervision.

Most of these little things could be somewhat excusable if the action sequences were at least interesting, but honestly most of them play out pretty bland, and there’s nothing in here that we haven’t seen before, done better in other films. There’s nothing like the introduction of the mech at the end of District 9, which helps to shake up the action and introduces a cool new element into the fray. It’s all pretty straight-forward and, because of that, boring here.

Overall, Chappie isn’t a very good film. There’s nothing here that hasn’t been done better, and done better in District 9 no less. There’s not one single thing to point to that makes the movie bad, but a collection of flaws that would otherwise be tolerable on their own add up to make one disappointing film.

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