It’s a horrible feeling watching a film that has an exciting and intriguing opening only to fail in every sense possible for the remainder. This unfortunately is the case with Neill Blomkamp’s Chappie – an artificial intelligence based thriller lacking intelligence.
Set in the near future, Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) has created a police force purely droid based who patrol the mean streets of Johannesburg. When one of the robots is destroyed, Deon steals the droid from his work against the word of his boss at his weapon supplying company, Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver).
Deon discovers a way to add consciousness, human thoughts and feelings to this droid, but just as he is kidnapped by some gangsters, Ninja & Yolandi, who steal the robot, naming him Chappie (voiced by Sharlto Copley). Under the influence, and effectively growing up with these crime lords, Chappie is soon used as a catalyst in their heists and petty thefts – despite his intentions.
Whilst this mayhem is taking place, Deon’s failing rival at work, Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman), is looking for a way he can make a success of his own creation, The Moose, a human operated super drone.
Vincent finds a way to disengage Deon’s droids, which are occupying the city of Johannesburg, and chaos soon breaks out. This is therefore the perfect excuse to release his Moose and truly bring an end to Deon.
A film with a storyline of this type has a lot to live up to – Robocop springs to mind immediately in terms of comparison (and not just because the film completely rips off the ED-209). And Chappie certainly delivers in the opening twenty minutes, but as soon as Chappie is born, things turn sour.
Let’s start with Chappie himself because irritating would be an understatement. Many have failed to give a human touch to a robot but Chappie falls well short and what we get is a cross between Jar Jar Binks and C3PO who you feel no affiliation with whatsoever.
Where the film also fails is distinguishing itself as an action thriller and a heartfelt drama. At no one stage does the film completely satisfy its audience, struggling to the juggle the gory and bad mouthed set pieces along with Chappie learning to love and expressing his emotion.
With all this in mind, Chappie isn’t completely faultless. Some set pieces are well shot and visually stimulating along with positive performances from the both versatile Patel and Jackman.
But Chappie is messy in too many places to watch with comfort and it’s difficult to find a demographic that the film would appeal to. Blomkamp recently admitted he made errors when making Elysium. He will be kicking himself again for sure.