Artificial Intelligence has a hand-in-hand relationship with the cinema industry, playing a pinnacle role in a lot of films these days and it's at the core of sci-fi aficionado Neill Blomkamp's latest project too, Chappie.
Blomkamp's directorial debut was a stunner; the brilliant, dazzling District 9. His follow-up, Elysium, failed to live up to the hype and, well, wasn't so good. Now, here we are, the magic number three, with Chappie. This kind of sits in the middle of his last two films, in the fact that it doesn't have the punch and vitality of District 9 but it's certainly a one up on Elysium and, at the end of the day, still manages to make a decent, entertaining moviegoing experience despite all the problems it hits.
It's all a bit rather clunky with lots of complex parts all over the place but, kind of like our titular robot himself, it has a delightful, heartfelt core to it and bursts with ambition and enthusiasm. It starts in a similar vein to District 9. In actual fact, it feels almost very like an indirect sequel: trying to look and play out like it, too much for its own good though. Of course, this will bring about a lot of unnecessary comparisons that will weigh down on Blomkamp's latest when, really, it's its own thing and should be judged as that.
Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) is a genius robotics engineer at TetraVaal, where they've developed an army of intelligent robot police that govern and patrol the city of Johannesburg, in a bid to reduce the crime rate there. However, when a joint bot and human police force raid the confines of an illustrious gang leader, a savage attack breaks out. When Scout #22 gets critically injured and goes down, ready for disposal, he's given a revival by Deon, as the body for a newer, smarter A.I - by the name of Chappie (Sharlto Copley).
The robot, like a new child in the world, capable of the ability to learn and empathise, marks a considerable advancement in Artificial Intelligence. Unfortunately, along with all the perks, Wilson's confidential project also brings with it a lot of dangers and troubles when Chappie is stolen by a group of thugs, with the intention of using him to pull off a grand heist. Surrounded by all this conflict, whilst still learning and growing to the world, Chappie must decide for himself exactly what it is he wants to do with his life.
There's a lot to like about Chappie. For starters, Copley's titular A.I is a captivating protagonist. Brought to life through some stunning motion capture, with a hint of CGI thrown in for good measure, this is a beautiful creation that is an unforgettable and fun character that also boasts some of the best mo-cap magic, aside from any of Andy Serkis' handy work that is. There's a quirky wit and child-like immaturity to his personality and he seamlessly blends into the real world, making the performance that bit more grounded and believable.
However (and rather unfortunately), the same cannot be said for any of the human entities in this picture. We have a talented ensemble, including Sigourney Weaver, Hugh Jackman and Dev Patel yet none of them are interested or fleshed out. There's no depth and development with their characters. We also have the musical duo of Die Antwood - Ninja Watkin Tudor Jones and Yolandi Visser - as the thugs that kidnap Chappie and, whilst they show off and nurture Chappie's character arcs nicely (Yolandi's relationship with the bot is one of the best things about this film), they can be rather painfully irritating and annoying characters at times.
You think that the film will focus on the battle between Dev Patel getting intelligent robots and Hugh Jackman not trusting them and wanting human control but, for the majority of the runtime, it's Chappie with these goons and him just being an asshole for a large portion of the picture. It's a shame really as not only is it the waste of a storyline, which could've had so much potential, but it's also a waste of such monumental talent. Rather than focusing and exhausting the skills of people like Weaver or Jackman, we're spending our time with Die Antwood.
Despite this, though, the film still manages to a lot of fun. Of course, if there's one thing Blomkamp knows how to do, it's deliver spectacle and Chappie is eye-candy, shot to perfection. The action sequences are ultra violent, brutally bloody and captured so beautifully too. There's explosions, tension and some big box-office set pieces and the director is playing to strengths here, enriching the picture with relentless violence.
However, this sometimes gets a bit much when you've got this soft, heartfelt center (Copley's baby with his innocent mannerisms) wrapped in this gun-toting, gritty world and it causes the film to lose a lot of humanity, which means it becomes hard to empathise with these characters and with this story - especially in the finale. Nonetheless, Blomkamp's latest is a worthy and quality sci-fi that, whilst it has its flaws, is an intense, entertaining flick.
Chappie is an action-packed, audacious and gorgeous looking sci-fi spectacle that isn't quite as compelling as District 9 but, certainly, has the advantage over Elysium and, despite a lack of character development and some clunky plot details, makes for a decent, entertaining film.
About the Author
Founder of Oasis Awais, and avid lover of life, Awais Irfan's love of writing and film is unequivocal. Ever since he was a little kid, he has loved the cinematic experience; so much so, he is studying Film Production in Glasgow and hopes to be the next "big thing" in directing.