Neill Blomkamp delighted many with his first feature ‘District 9’, a film that was clever on many levels and featured a great central performance from Sharlto Copley. Blomkamp managed to convey his themes with the sincerity and power of a veteran, and not someone for whom feature films were entirely new, which meant that he was already being heralded as one of the next big things in the world of cinema.
That hype has died down a little with the mixed reaction to his follow-up film ‘Elysium’, widely seen as a thematic follow-up and definitely not as powerful or stimulating as his first film, though nonetheless passably entertaining. Sadly, ‘Chappie’ hits about the same level as ‘Elysium’ in that while it has strong ideas, the execution is haphazard and ineffective and it doesn’t quite have the effect that it perhaps should have.
The subject of the film follows along the same thematic footsteps as Blomkamp’s previous work, but he reworks it so that the tale is about a robot who gains artificial intelligence. Dev Patel plays Deon Wilson, an inventor who works for weapons company Tetravaal and is praised with bringing a semblance of security to a near-future Johannesburg and eventually creates Chappie, voiced by Sharlto Copley, the titular robot who becomes the centre of attention and whose slow discovery of the world and its many wonderful and horrible sides is what shapes the film and drives the narrative. Also circling are the always reliable Sigourney Weaver as the head of the corporation and Hugh Jackman, a rival inventor who wears cargo shorts and sports horrible hair, making Jackman, for the first time in his career, look almost revolting, but who is always on point when it comes to his acting ability, despite a choppy script. Patel’s work is pretty solid, but the major talking point has been Copley’s performance. which has been divisive in that some have heralded it as charming and sweet and others have called it akin to watching a robot Jar-Jar Binks, but the real truth lies in between. Copley is definitely endearing, but sometimes the dialogue lets him down and devalues the film somewhat, meaning the character isn’t quite as affecting as he should be.
Ultimately ‘Chappie’ is not a resounding success, nor a failure, but a film with a great idea that gets bogged down far too much in inconsequential stuff that doesn’t help the story. The involvement of South African rap group Die Antwoord was always a brave choice by Blomkamp too, and while they do a pretty good job of playing themselves, it’s still oddly distracting to see the rap duo so well known for their outlandish and frankly indescribably weird music acting. That’s not the ultimate problem though, which is that Blomkamp doesn’t seem to quite know how to maintain an idea without going off in to less interesting avenues and it adversely affects his interesting concepts. Oh, and Hugh Jackman’s mullet doesn’t help either.