So it's been a month after I saw Chappie, Neil Blomkamp's latest sci-fi foray into cinema, and after letting it stew as to whether I really liked it or not, I've determined that it honestly depends on whether or not you like Neil Blomkamp or not.
Three movies in and you can see Blomkamp's fingerprints all over this film: realistic special effects in a brightly lit environment, an obvious love of his homeland South Africa, and a copious use of Sharito Copley. Combine all this in a simple action story and you have an entertaining piece that feels smarter than Transformers, but not as heady as Interstellar. Sure there's heart and the titular character is endearing enough to latch onto audiences, but the more I think about it the more I realize that by now Blomkamp might be resting on his laurels a bit too much.
There was enough to like from the main characters, such as the well-meaning engineer Deon (Dev Patel) and Chappie himself, who grows from a childlike drone to a young, self aware teenager. The robots themselves look great and the locale is a fantastic setting to showcase the impact of a fully robotized police force on an impoverished population. However, I found the secondary protagonists in Ninja's gang to be a bit on the unsympathetic side, and the main antagonist Moore (Hugh Jackman) came off as a militaristic thug who appeared all too eager to unleash an overcompensatingly amount of firepower upon Johannesburg's criminal element.
The story isn't too complex, especially if you're familiar with robots who wish to become humans. The beats of having innocence lost upon a naive young AI are sometimes harsh to see, yet it also feels fairly safe and perhaps stock in its execution. The visuals are great and there are great moments to be had especially towards the end. However, when all is said and done one can't help but feel that for all the good Chappie has, it plays more like Blomkamp's greatest hits rather than a revolutionary new story.
Chappie overall isn't a bad film, but it's nowhere near as transcendent as his first outing in District 9. Maybe by now the novelty of gritty, realistic robots in a dusty modern city has lost its shine. Perhaps Blomkamp may be a great director but only an average writer. It could also be a case of Blomkamp being at the right place at the right time when District 9 came out, but hasn't moved from his comfort place since. Chappie overall feels like a fun movie one would be willing to watch on cable, but not the sci-fi classic it was marketed to be. Go and watch it if you're in the mood for a popcorn flick with robots that isn't too overblown. Otherwise, just wait for the DVD and watch it at your leisure.
Fingers crossed that Blomkamp can do Alien proud.
- review by Richard Jao