Neill Blomkamp made his name directing acclaimed sci-fi films District 9 and Elysium. Drawing from headlines exploring the divide between rich and poor and racial disharmony, those works were memorable.
The same cannot be said for Chappie, which is an amalgamation of various genres failing to find its own groove. Although well-shot with technically proficient action scenes, Chappie is a less than stellar addition to Blomkamp’s repertoire.
Tech expert Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) creates an effective, mechanised police force. Much to the chagrin of Deon’s rival Vincent (Hugh Jackman) they successfully assert order. Keen to craft an artificially intelligent being, Deon creates a droid called Chappie. When seized by thieves, they use it for their own ends. Becoming a criminal scourge, the robot unwittingly places everyone’s lives in peril. Events turn deadly as the war between man and machine spirals out of control.
Whilst Blomkamp’s innovative visual style is evident, his storytelling technique falters. The characters are so nasty it is difficult caring about their fate. Since Chappie mimics the actions of his crooked captives, the care factor in its plight is near zero. Only Deon elicits any sympathy as he tries to unravel a dangerous situation. The performers do their best with the poorly written material, with Chappie’s CGI renderings startling.
Any gains hardly matter due to the script’s familiar concepts. The sight of an artificially intelligent robot gaining knowledge has been done numerous times. Add the usual genre riffs Blomkamp plunders and Chappie has little to call its own. Only towards the end does it gain traction with a cleverly inspired conclusion. Reaching this point is a chore with characters and a clumsy screenplay sinking initial potential.
Chappie is a very disappointing effort from a gifted director. Blomkamp can do better than rip off other films. With more care in crafting his own skills in telling grandiose tales, he can succeed in making more engrossing films than his latest.
Reviewed by Patrick Moore
Rating out of 10: 4
Chappie will be released on Blu-ray, DVD & Digital on 18 June 2015.
This review was first published under the title Film Review – Chappie on 15 March 2015 for the cinema release of the film.