Chappie-1The third movie can often been more difficult than the first. Having established his aesthetic well and truly in his first two features, Neill Blomkamp must have been treading carefully when envisioning his next film. With his second feature Elysium failing to match the heights of his stunning début District 9 (although, Elysium does have its merits), Blomkamp seems somewhat at odds in regards to what tone to strike with his third film. Initially touted as a comedy, Chappie, comes across as something struggling to both stand out from Blomkamp’s previous efforts and respect the aesthetic and formula he has set down for himself.

Set in the near future, the high crime rate in South Africa is lowered day by day through the use of a new Robotic Police Force, designed by young engineering genius, Deon (Dev Patel). Despite the huge success of his creations, Deon is determined to develop the next step in Robotics, a concious A.I. When he finally cracks it but is vetoed by his company’s CEO (Sigourney Weaver), Deon uploads his program into a de-commissioned Robot. However, when he is kidnapped by a pair of gangsters looking for a big score (Die Antwoord’s Ninja and Yolandi), Deon’s creation falls into their hands. The A.I., named Chappie (Shalrto Copley), who has to learn like a child, soon picks up the ways of the gangster lifestyle, but trouble is further faced when a disgruntled co-worker of Deon’s (Hugh Jackman) discovers the existence of Chappie, and looks set to wipe him out. Chappie

Artificial Intelligence is well-trodden ground in Science Fiction, and is ground well worth exploring in an age where A.I technology is developing at such a fast rate. Blomkamp’s creation is something quite astonishing. His confidence with visual effects creates a character with a bright and fully formed personality, brought to life with child-like glee by Sharlto Copley in what they have described as the poor man’s motion capture (acted on set, then digitally re-created, rather than tracking the movements through the latest ping-pong suits). He works as an original character, very sympathetic and quite adorable, even when engaging in the gangster activity. He remains a naive, yet volatile character, but one we enjoy spending time with, knowingly drawing upon the charm of 80’s robot characters from the likes of Short Circuit and *batteries not included. 

The first half of Blomkamps’ third movie does well to both appear like a aesthetic continuation of his previous films as well as proving to be something different. The location is familiar, a dystopic South African locale, but the attention to character is refreshing, choosing to devote all the action to Chappie’s understanding of the world and his upbringing in a gangster environment. It is an interesting decision to have Chappie grow up in a very particular section of South African culture, namely the parent-ship of Die Antwoord.

?????????????????I don’t quite understand why the film is so painstakingly constructed as a star-vehicle for the South African Rap-Rave group, particularly when they’re not the best actors. Yolandi is the better of the pairing, as she is given the more affectionate role, but ultimately, giving a vast majority of the run-time to the pairing proves more detrimental to the film than it does its benefit, as the blurring between the real world version of themselves and this fictitious depiction proves far too distracting.

Where the film falters is in its final act, which is in fact what has happened in the previous two Blomkamp movies. Rather than stay on course to develop what could be called a comedy, Chappie descends into the gung-ho action that characterised the final acts of District 9 and Elysium. With Hugh Jackman unleashing his ED-209 rip-off, the film veers into Verhoven levels of violence which doesn’t sit too well with the good-natured sensibilities that have been attributed to Chappie. It sends the film down the wrong path, which is worsened by a rushed resolution which is far too ambitious and very clumsily thought out. The film has not finished dealing with one big scientific notion before divulging in to another, leaving the climax to feel unsure, all too convenient and just a little bit dumb.  Chappie-4.2

Chappie has been on the receiving end of some harsh criticism, only holding 30% on Rotten Tomatoes. While it is drastically flawed come the final act, it is most certainly as good as Elysium, if not better, due to its more personal nature and wonderfully designed central character. Blomkamp now has Alien 5 n his sights, and I think it will be to his benefit to play in a sandbox which is not originally of his own design. It should allow him to break away from his now all too familiar structure and deliver something fresher, but most importantly, it should allow him to finally escape from his own shadow.

3/5- Chappie is capable of being touching and exciting, but also muddled and frustrating, resulting in another sub-par effort from Blomkamp, but not one which makes you give up hope for the South African film-maker.

 

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