Michael’s Review: ‘Chappie’- This Robot Story Doesn’t Compute


South African-born filmmaker Neill Blomkamp returns for his third science fiction film in the last 6 years, Chappie, a film about a a robot who becomes the first of his kind with the ability to think and feel for himself. Like all of Blomkamp’s films, class warfare takes center stage as an underdog must rise up to fight against the high tech authoritative establishment. While with good intentions and a strong cast to support the story, Chappie is a film that starts off with a huge amount of potential, but ultimately succumbs to it’s shortcomings. A film caught in an identity crisis somewhere between Short Circuit and Robocop.

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The year is 2016, and Johannesburg’s crime has reached an apocalyptic level. The police have enlisted the help of robotics company Tetravaal and their latest creation, a robotic police forces, to help decrease the need for police activity across the city. A young scientist, Deon (Dev Patel), the chief engineer behind the creation of these robots, has his sights set on the next level of his creation, a machine with the ability to think and feel on its own. Company CEO Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver) doesn’t share Deon’s enthusiasm about the next evolution of their prized technology and denies Deon’s request for more research. Former soldier and current Tetravaal engineer, Vincent (Hugh Jackman), has also created his own police robot, the “Moose”, a robot which looks eerily similar to the ED-209 from the 1987 Robocop film. Seeing Deon’s creation as a threat, Vincent aims to make the young scientists A.I appear inferior to his creation at all costs. 

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Deon decides to continue his research, without consent, and steals a decommissioned robot for further evaluation. Local criminals Ninja and Yo-Landi (played by Ninja and Yo-Landi Visser of the South African rap group Die Antwoord), along with Yankie (Jose Pablo Cantillo), manage to kidnap Deon in order to steal his access to control the robots. After realizing that Deon is in possession of a robot, the trio demand that he program the machine to do their bidding. Seeing this as an opportunity to test out his new self learning program, Deon agrees and Chappie is born. Deon, excited about the possibilities, demands to continue his work on the newly born robot but Ninja has other ideas and schemes to use the robot to pull off a major heist.

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As Chappie begins to learn, he is presented with two very different teachers in Deon and Ninja. One is educated scientist with aspirations of turning Chappie into a shining representation of what A.I could evolve in to, and one is a street raised, gangster thug with goals of wealth and power. But it is the caring voice of Yo-Landi that mesmerizes Chappie. The young woman becomes a surrogate mother to the robot and tries to help him learn and understand what it’s like to be loved, but Ninja’s influence becomes dominant and Chappie must chose between what’s right and what’s wrong. Convinced that Deon is up to something, Vincent sets out to find the answers. When he finds out what Deon has created, he sets out on a path to destroy the legacy of the young scientist and expose Chappie as a threat to society.

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Blomkamp has created a thought-provoking, yet entertaining, action film with effective visuals that has all the makings of a blockbuster success if it weren’t for it’s shortcomings. The story starts strong, but loses it’s charm somewhere around the halfway mark of the film. The transformation of Chappie from newborn robot to confused Robothug is, at times, cringeworthy. The vocal work of Blomkamp veteran Sharlto Copley loses it’s appeal after a while and the portrayal of the titular character becomes little more than a Ali-G type portrayal of a young street kid. Hugh Jackman is equally as ineffective as the films antagonist. There are glimpses in the film that the character of Vincent might offer some juicy confrontations, but the chemistry between Jackman and costar Dev Patel is nonexistent. Patel plays a similar character to his “Neil” on HBO’s Newsroom and never seems to find a way to flush out his character. The interaction between Patel and Copley’s Chappie is close to what you expect from a creator to his creation, but the two are left with few opportunities in first half of the film to gain any momentum. 

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Ninja and Yo-Landi Visser are actually serviceable as street hardened versions of their real life selves. The caring nature from which Visser creates her character is a nice touch while Ninja depicts a loathsome, street thug with precision. Jose Pablo Cantillo has a few chances to achieve a noteworthy performance but ultimately the actor is merely there to support Ninja and Visser. The biggest let down for me is the under use of Sigourney Weaver, whose character was prime for a super villain type reveal, but Blomkamp opts for a more sterile type of performance.

Overall, Chappie will not win many audiences over this weekend and will surely disappoint fans of Blomkamp’s District 9. While not as disappointing as Elysium, this film will leave you wanting so much more from a director who has proven he has so much to give.


2 1/2 out of 5



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