In the near future, Johannesburg is a violent and dangerous city, pliced by robot droids. When droid creator Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) believes he has created artificial intelligence, he is denied the chance to test his theory officially, so takes matters into his own hands. When criminals desperate for cash capture him, Wilson is forced to upload his programme into a police drone, creating the first robot with the ability to feel and think for himself.
Oh lord, another AI movie and another Neill Blomkamp movie featuring characters on the run from the law, or themselves, or something. Add to this Robocop and Bicentennial Man, with a splash of District 9, and you already know what’s going on in Chappie.
The performances in Chappie are patchy, at best. Dev Patel does well as the lead scientist and creator of Chappie, but is quickly sidelined. It seems like a lot more material was written for Hugh Jackman’s character Vincent, but it ended up on the cutting room floor, so audiences are left with an unscrupulous bad guy who wears shorts and boots and has a bad mullet. Sharlto Copley is fine as the voice of Chappie and Sigourney Weaver doesn’t have a lot to do, but everything falls apart in the hands of Die Antwoord’s Yo-Landi Visser and Ninja, who over act, under act and generally stomp all over anything remotely good that’s happening here.
In terms of story, Chappie feels as though writers Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell took their favourite things about Robocop and Pinocchio, threw them into the same world as District 9, added some Futurama style robots and that was that. The dialogue is serviceable, but nothing spectacular, and the whole thing feels predictable and inevitable. Adding the idea that Chappie has to learn about the world that he finds himself in may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but this leaves the main character a cross between a petulant child and a squirrel, with very little reason for the audience to root for him. As well as this, the constant hammering home of the idea of a soul and where it actually resides gets old very fast.
As director, Neill Blomkamp really needs to do something different now. This particular dystopian future is fine, but it is so reminiscent of District 9 that it’s hard to shake the comparison while watching the film. As well as this, the pacing is a mess; the film spends so much time on set up that the two hour running time feels endless, and the climactic set piece does nothing to get the energy of the film going again. There have been rumblings about the CG in the film being not up to the mark, but it works well enough for what is needed.
In all, Chappie is a drawn out affair that feels incredibly familiar, and rather preachy. The cast are fine, for the most part, but casting Die Antwoord as main actors was a massive mis-step for the film. There is nothing we haven’t seen here before, except a robot we are we must root for, but is actually rather irritating.