Writer/Director Neil Blomkamp’s filmography thrives in the sci-fi genre. Blomkamp burst onto the scene in 2009 with his Best Picture nominated film “District 9.” Four years later, he gave us the 2013 film “Elysium,” which featured great world building (although an unmemorable story).
Now, we have “Chappie,” another science-fiction narrative about the world’s first life-like artificial intelligence.
In the near future, engineer Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) has created a mechanized police force in Johannesburg South Africa. It has become a highly successful product for weapon’s manufacturer Tetravaal. Fellow engineer Vincent Moore — an ape-ish, mullet-wearing Hugh Jackman — has grown jealous of Wilson’s success.
At home Deon has spent years trying to produce the world’s first naturalistic AI. One night his experiments deem successful, but Tetravaal CEO Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver) denies him permission for further testing. Deon steals a scrapped robot from the facility so he can test his work. On his way home, he is kidnapped by a mob of gangsters, who threaten to kill him unless they program the police robot to work for them. The programming works, and the first artificial intelligence is born and named “Chappie.”
The movie takes place in the near future so much of the world is relatable. We can see from the fact that all of Tetravaal’s engineers work in aroom full of cubicles that the company is relatively new and doesn’t have a lot of money to its name. Once again, Blomkamp does a great job of creating an understandable and functional world.
But “Chappie” runs into problems when it comes to its character’s and overall plot.
Our protagonist Chappie is the best part of the film. For most of the film, he is a lovable robot who is most unfamiliar with the world and must learn as a child would. The group of gangsters corrupts his innocence and Chappies evolves into a funny, pseudo-gangster-robot child. Some of my favorite scenes are when Chappie is discovering the world around him. There are a number of lovely moments in these sections, like when Chappie watches the animated cartoon”He-Man” on TV and reenacts what his sees on the screen.
There are also quite a number of funny scenes where Chappie is trained in the ways of a first class “gangsta.” His mannerisms and voice are established from these training sequences. Since he has his own intelligence, Chappie knows the difference between right and wrong and he doesn’t want to commit crimes, but the gangsters find some creative ways to get him to commit the felonies.
Our main antagonist is Vincent Moore, who at the beginning of the film tries to show the moral ambiguity of a non-human operated robot but quickly turns from the side of reason to a villain. He isn’t an enjoyable villain, He could easily be classified as one of the characters who gets in the way and becomes more annoying than anything else.
Most of the film is about Chappie’s character growth, but it soon escalates into a gangster vs. gangster vs. law enforcement vs. robot vs. Mullet-driving robot plot that somehow ends up very similar to District 9. Not that the end is bad — it’s rather really interesting. I was less interested in the happenings in the city of Johannesburg than how Chappie would be incorporated into society. Sadly, we never get to see this happen. All we get is a prologue at the beginning that states how Chappie changed things.
“Chappie” isn’t a bad film, but it isn’t good either. Although the interesting robot protagonist showcases some great comic moments, the story is pedestrian. Regardless, Chappie is an entertaining movie that almost excuses its two-hour run time.
Grant Fitzgerald is a senior film production major. This review reflects the view of the writer only.