Neil Blomkamp has always been a director I’ve admired, famous mostly for his smash-hit: ‘District 9’ in 2012, shortly then followed by his second film: ‘Elysium’ which split many sci-fi fans down the middle. He’s always managed to impress me through his incredible use of CGI and explosive action set-pieces. However, I’ve always found his narratives to be kind of lacklustre, and this is definitely where the main issue lies with his third film: ‘Chappie’.
In the near future, crime in the city of Johannesburg is patrolled by a mechanized police force created by the company: ‘Tetravaal’. But when one police droid: ‘Chappie’ is stolen and given new programming, he becomes the first machine ever with the ability to think and feel for himself. Leading ‘Chappie’ to eventually realize the chaotic world he has now become a part of.
I find the initial idea very interesting, coming-off almost as a mixture between: ‘RoboCop’ and ‘Short Circuit’ and I think the film could’ve been very entertaining if they would’ve chosen to explore these ideas of synthetic life vs. actual living consciousness. Strangely however, this is not the direction the film actually goes, as we see ‘Chappie’ enter the world of crime alongside a criminal gang, making the film less of an interesting sci-fi with themes of artificial intelligence and more along the lines of a straight crime thriller. Now with a less-likeable protagonist.
Sharlto Coply, Deon Wilson, Hugh Jackman and Sigourney Weaver all give decent performances in the film, and while I would’ve preferred Sigourney Weaver to have a bigger role in the overall narrative. I feel Sharlto Coply as: ‘Chappie’ and Hugh Jackman as the antagonist of the film: ‘Vincent Moore’ were both great in their respective roles. However, in easily one of the worst decisions in the film. The band: Die Antwoord portray some of the main protagonists (with their real names for some reason) and ignoring from their mostly poor performances, they also come off as very unlikeable characters throughout. Ensuring the audience roots for the criminal gang even less than before.
Trent Opaloch handles the cinematography in the film, which is pretty great for the most part, however as similar to the rest of Blomkamp’s films, there is far too much use of hand-held camera techniques. Although this is fine when it comes to the action scenes, when the pacing slows-down and the story focuses on more dialogue-heavy scenes or crucial character moments, I find it very distracting. The CGI effects however, are gorgeous throughout the film, as every visual effect has enormous weight to it, truly feeling as if it is part of the scene, this is especially clear with the CGI on: ‘Chappie’ himself, as the character interacts with every location, prop and character flawlessly.
The original score by Hanz Zimmer is phenomenal as per-usual, combing a typical sci-fi soundtrack alongside a more gritty crime score. Fitting the film perfectly, and really adding tension to many of the scenes throughout the runtime. I was also very impressed with the sound design throughout ‘Chappie’, as although most sci-fi flicks usually have decent sound design, I felt ‘Chappie’ really used its sound design effectively to add to the film’s gritty tone.
More than likely just a personal issue, but I also feel the song choices within the film were very poor. As a large number of songs from the indie band: ‘Die Antwoord’ are used throughout the film, all of which just don’t fit with the pacing or tone of the film at all. In addition to this, the fact that their characters share the real-life names as the actors portraying them as already mentioned, just makes the entire thing very confusing.
I’m still not entirely sure what I think of: ‘Chappie’. Whilst it definitely has many flaws and is easily Blomkamp’s weakest film in my opinion. The film still has certain elements I really enjoy, as some of the cinematography, action scenes and CGI effects still impress me to this day, and all display that this director still has a keen eye for visuals. But his storytelling really does need to show improvement in the future. Regardless of this, I hope Blomkamp gets another shot at directing again. But for now, ‘Chappie’ is unfortunately, a 4/10.