Short Circuit meets Robocop in South Africa
After the news that Blomkamp is to take on the Alien franchise, many hoped he might be able to undo the third and fourth instalments. But Chappie doesn’t engender any sense of ease or security, instead cementing concerns after his last effort.Returning to a South African setting to work his magic this time around, Director Neil Blomkamp depicts a future that’s now all too familiar, with the rampant crime levels being countered by patrolling semi-AI armoured robot police, and vying robot designers keen to have their creations pave the way for safe streets and a safer future. But when the latest creation, instilled with a breakthrough form of full-AI, ends up reprogrammed and in the hands of a couple of low-life gangsters, it’s innocent, child-like mind is given a fast-track lesson in combat and survival on the streets. Despite some great ideas about consciousness and even spirituality, Blomkamp struggles to balance the development of Chappie with his desire to hit us with noisy action sequences.Whilst it might seem simplistic to just break this down into a meeting of Robocop and Short Circuit, Blomkamp isn’t capable of covering up his references – some of them direct – with Chappie’s Johnny Number 5 rattling around like an innocent (complete with a low battery) caught up in a violent world, whilst the latest opposing creation is a hulking beast of a machine which bears a striking resemblance to ED-209. Sure, Blomkamp already trod a similar path with Elysium’s robot police, but he did so with more originality, although the end result still resorted to the same ultimate methodology: crank up the action and leave the social commentary at the door.
Populating Chappie is a prime example of some of the rather odd choices that Blomkamp has made with this production, throwing an aggressive Hugh Jackman into the mix, whilst Sigourney Weaver delivers another phoned-in supporting role, and Dev Patel plays God with his creation. But it’s Blomkamp’s decision to give a pair of South Africa rappers – named Ninja and Yolandi, both in real life and in the film – pretty key roles, which smacks of short-sightedness.
It’s all good and well trying to instil as much of his home country into this package (if you’re wondering where Blomkamp mainstay Sharlto Copley is, fear not, he mo-capped and voiced the robot Chappie itself) but not at the expense of the quality of the production. These two non-actors are absolutely horrendous, basically playing themselves, and frustratingly capable of pulling you right out of the narrative just by opening their mouths.
Perhaps there’s an alternative cut somewhere but as it stands Chappie is a mess, with some good ideas mixed in with a lot of noise.
Still, Chappie isn’t really about the dialogue, much as you almost wish it was. There’s plenty of hard-sci-fi notions prepped and ready to be exploited, but Blomkamp – much as he did with Elysium – appears more than happy to turn away from them at every possible opportunity, hinting at depth but more readily diverting towards action; pausing to reflect upon questions on faith, consciousness and spirituality, before resuming its bullet-spraying bombardment instead.
Perhaps there’s a longer cut somewhere – or an alternative cut – but as it stands Chappie is a two hour mess, with some good ideas mixed in with a lot of noise. One silver lining is perhaps the fact that the film is visually stunning. It looks tremendous, especially the effects work, and it makes you wonder what Blomkamp might have delivered if he’d had a handle on the Robocop remake. He’s got a great eye for blending computer and practical effects, which gives his visuals a much more authentic feel, and Chappie is certainly a feast for the eyes, even if it leaves the brain wanting.
The trouble is, for a third effort, you’d have hoped that Blomkamp would have honed his craft by now. Unfortunately, rather than polishing up the brutal blend of socio-political allegory and body-horror action-violence that bolstered his debut, through Elysium and now this, he appears more interested in blinding you with visual carnage than developing the method behind the madness.
You can buy Chappie on Blu-ray HERE
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