James Canellos ‘17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
The first words a child speaks will always ring loudest in their parent’s memory. “Watch” is the first line uttered by the title robot Chappie in Neill Blomkamp’s latest socially aware science fiction extravaganza. When Chappie first says “watch” it makes one think that we better pay attention to what Chappie’s going to do. At first Sharlto Copley, in a motion captured performance as the titular robot, excites and intrigues with his fresh innocent computer eyes. But the quicker Chappie matures the less thrilling and more boring this film becomes.
In a crime infested Johannesburg, Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) has designed a mechanized police unit that are single handedly dropping the crime rate in the city. As even the simplest crimes are getting more difficult to pull off, a group of gangsters, Ninja, Yo-Landi and Amerika (members of the band Die Antwoord as versions of themselves & Jose Pablo Cantillo) owe a drug lord $20 million. To pull off the heist that will guarantee them this amount, these not-so-bright criminals steal one of the malfunctioned police droids along with Deon.
After Deon programs the broken robot, this machine becomes the first robot ever with a consciousness. Yo-Landi is quick to name him Chappie, and is more interested in raising him like a child while Ninja wants to train Chappie to be “The baddest gangsta in South Africa”. More trouble ensues when Vincent (Hugh Jackman), a mullet-donned and khaki shorts-wearing robotics rival of Deon tries to sabotage the whole system in order to prove that his human-controlled robot is the better investment.
Chappie is a modern day Pinocchio tale of a robot who’s having a philosophical dilemma of what makes someone human. At first it seems like Bloomkamp is going for a commentary on our reliance of technology, a la WALL-E. The always socially conscious director could have easily made a statement about modern day police brutality or something that risks a lot more. Instead, Chappie feels like a knockoff of Bloomkamp’s debut hit District 9, repeating a lot of the same plot points and build up that falls flat and feels unearned. Bloomkamp and his writing partner Terri Tatchell also fall deeper into Hollywood cliches and uncharacteristic changes in order to keep the story moving. These same cliches began to appear in Bloomkamp’s last film Elysium and have only gotten much worse in Chappie.
Bloomkamp regular Sharlto Copley steals the show as the curious and often mislead Chappie. Watching him learn about the best and worst parts of humanity lead to the film’s most serene moments. Moments like these were desperately needed as Chappie’s realization of curse words and street slang lead to the film’s cheapest and most forced laughs. Half of the film feels like a giant advertisement for the film’s leading South African rappers Ninja and Yolandi, for they wear their own merchandise, their music is featured on the soundtrack and their characters even have the same names.
When Bloomkamp started out with with District 9, it felt like he was going to be the latest and strongest voice in the genre of science fiction. Elysium was alright, but now Chappie is another bright red flag in the wrong direction, making everyone question why this director is now in charge of the Alien franchise (whose star Sigourney Weaver appears here briefly). It feels like Bloomkamp is becoming the next M. Night Shyamalan, full of potential after his first huge masterpiece, then a quick downfall due to his need to repeat himself. Chappie’s first word was watch, but you will prefer to look away.
Overall Grade: C-