The tagline for Chappie is “Humanity’s last hope isn’t human.” There’s a lot of potential in that statement, and in the premise of this film. Sadly, the tagline should read “Science fiction’s last hope is not Neill Blomkamp.” Oh, I wanted him to be. District 9 was an excellent sci-fi film with social commentary without being too heavy-handed about it, while still offering a compelling narrative. But his follow-up, Elysium, WAS too heavy-handed; almost cartoonishly so, and that ruined it.
Chappie does something nearly the opposite. The social commentary is there, opening with some promising scenes of near future overwhelming crime in Johannesburg, and a police force unable to contain it. But then, Tetravaal, a military funded tech company creates a robotic police force that stems the tide of criminals over-running the city. Gee, that sounds like Robocop. Because it IS. Not enough like Robocop, you say? Ok, how’s this: Tetravaal employee, Deon, is responsible for creating the A.I. of these robot cops. His co-worker, Vincent (Hugh Jackman clearly looking to play a cartoon bad guy), is ex-military and has his own creation; a large military mech ‘bot that is basically a war machine. But, hey, the police force thinks it’s too expensive and more than they need. So, yeah, Vincent is pissed off about this and doesn’t like Deon much because of it. Is that more like Robocop for ya? Oy.
What Deon REALLY wants is to get his new success – a fully functioning, free-thinking Artificial Intelligence – a trial run. His boss, Michelle (a pointless small role by Sigourney Weaver), says “no way”. She should have said that to this role. So Deon takes an about-to-be-scrapped robot, Scout 22, and tests it out anyway. But as he’s driving off to do that, he gets kidnapped by some low rent thugs so they can get Deon to turn off all the robot cops and commit a big money job to pay off their debt to a big drug lord who likes to kill things.
Well, of course the plan changes and they let Deon put his new A.I. in Scout 22 – so they can use him to commits crimes – and once he’s up and running, one of the thugs, Yolandi of the band Die Antwoord, names him Chappie. One of the other thugs? Ninja from Die Antwoord. Yeah, let’s just say that having the band Die Antwoord in this was a really bad idea. They take you out of the film every time they’re on screen. WAY too recognizable, even though Chris and Graham had no idea who they were. You know when you find yourself screaming at the podcast in your head? I was doing that. How do they not know who Die Antwoord is? They really need to consult me more often. 😉
So now there’s all this weird comic stuff with Ninja and Yolandi. Comic stuff about being gangster. It’s not that funny. And it’s confusing because sometimes the film is all serious and then there’s this. Well, if you listened to the podcast episode, I pretty much agree with everything Chris and Graham said. That doesn’t happen all that often, ALL of us on the same page, but here we are.
Chappie fails on almost every level. Other than being technically great – really solid effects – the script just isn’t good. This is a real disappointment. I can only give Chappie one and a half kittenhands. How it got over a 7 rating on IMDb is beyond me. Save your money on this, and go watch Predestination On Demand.
~ Neil T. Weakley, your average movie-goer, afraid to see what Blomkamp will do with the soon-to-be-rebooted Alien franchise.