Let’s take a second to step back and look at Neill Blomkamp‘s career so far. After becoming something of a poster boy after his fantastic feature debut District 9, a lot of people anticipated his follow-up Elysium, which had a intriguing premise, but was overall a disappointment. It was pretty much District 9 remade without the grit, a much higher budget, and with a much more heavy-handed execution of its messages.
So here we have Chappie, which is a weird beast of its own. With much less fanfare behind it than Elysium had, the film has pretty much flown under the radar. It also doesn’t help that Blomkamp’s recent announcement to make an Alien sequel has taken much of the spotlight from this film. And Sony’s piss-poor attempt at marketing the film has done it no favors either, painting the film in one trailer as a family-friendly robot movie and in another showing the film as a big-budget action spectacle. Well, it’s neither.
Chappie, while child-like at heart, is a dirty film. Blomkamp fills the screen with the dark and trashy slums of Johannesburg, while showcasing some colorful graffiti and weapons as well. These go much better with the vibrant characters the film throws at the audience, especially Ninja and Yo-Landi Visser. While their admittedly sketchy “gangsta” appearances match the murky and dangerous locations that Blomkamp chooses, their off-kilter character traits also supplement the color look trying to throw off the dark side.
As for how the two actors, who are the singers in the group Die Antwoord, actually do acting in the film, they do what they’re meant to accomplish. Ninja was surprisingly strong playing himself(?), while Visser fares much worse. That being said, her poor deliverance of dialogue fits her character, who must teach Chappie how to learn and become his own person. So, like I said, she serves her purpose.
Surprisingly, it’s the more popular actors that don’t fare as well. Dev Patel does an admirable job acting, especially when you consider how shoddy his characterization is. He creates drama where there isn’t any, which might be annoying at times given the situation, but at least he’s trying. Meanwhile Hugh Jackman gets stuck with a horrible role of the jealous co-worker that just has to become an antagonist because you know, why not. And there were times where I actually forgot Sigourney Weaver was in the movie. She does nothing to move the story forward, so her character’s inclusion is still confusing.
Despite some character (and acting) flaws, Chappie breezes by is quite enjoyable. Chappie learns everything a little too quickly, but I felt for his character and thankfully Blomkamp avoided being too mushy with Chappie’s harsh “childhood”, which was my biggest concern. Chappie himself was very likeable and managed to carry the film. While not particularly deep at all, Chappie is an admirable look at raising a child, which in this case is obviously Chappie. Like I said, it’s never deep enough to offer up some juicy political or social bite (which surprised me, given how in-your-face Elysium was about its themes), but it gets the job done.
That being said, the last ten minutes completely derail the film. I was perfectly fine with the film being a somewhat safe and predictable tale when the story didn’t necessarily leave much room for improvement. However, Blomkamp really tests his audience’s patience with the ending, pretty much undoing most of the hard work that the film had going towards it. It got to the point where the basic and simple vision of the film just wasn’t enough for some of the ambitious ideas it carries along. This leads to a horrific final shot, void of any emotion or deep consequences (those who’ve seen it will know what I’m talking about). Long story short: the twist the film throws at you doesn’t work. At all.
With Chappie, Neill Blomkamp returns to the small-scale world of District 9 and creates a visually stunning and entertaining flick. Sadly, the film is far too safe for its own good and seems to be afraid to ask the tough questions it hints at. So instead, it adds them in the film but manages to avoid actually answering them, leading to a very frustrating experience. It’s as if someone let Blomkamp make a mess around the house, and for a while it’s kind of fun to watch. It’s not too messy, but it surely gets a little out of hand. But when it comes to cleaning the mess, Blomkamp refuses to help because it’s too much work. The smart ideas and fresh political bite are all in sight, but Blomkamp never reaches for it, instead reeling in and hoping the slow-mo does the work.
Chappie is a fun movie to watch for a while, but once you realize it could have been so much more, you can’t help but leave disappointed. I’m kind of worried for the Alien sequel now, despite my undeniable love for District 9.