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article imageReview: Neill Blomkamp’s ‘Chappie’ still has some major glitches Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Mar 7, 2015 in Entertainment
Writer/director Neil Blomkamp’s third sci-fi feature, ‘Chappie,’ is an innovative look at artificial intelligence, though it’s not without its flaws.
Artificial intelligence in its current and imagined states is a rich system in which to speculate and postulate the future of technological advancement via science fiction narratives. In most cases the proposal includes world domination and/or destruction, reflecting an inherent human fear of mechanization. But fewer storytellers attempt to guess what integration might look like. In Chappie, writer/director Neill Blomkamp tells the tale of a robot who can learn to be human.
Before the invention of Deon’s (Dev Patel) robotic police force, Johannesburg was a city of insurmountable crime. Now, in 2016, it’s once again habitable and Deon is a hero to everyone but his company’s rival inventor, Vincent (Hugh Jackman), whose project is losing ground and funding. However Deon is not satisfied with his tactically trained guardians; he’s been secretly working on a program that would give a machine true consciousness. A series of events lead to the newborn robot christened Chappie (Sharlto Copley) ending up in the possession of a group of gangsters who hope to use their new toy in the heist of a lifetime.
In a recent interview, Blomkamp said that he has a self-identified flaw: he is excellent at developing concepts for stories, but can be so caught up in the idea that he proves less focused on constructing an effective narrative to convey said concept to a wider audience. Though the filmmaker was referring to his sophomore outing Elysium, the same explanation can be applied to his third film. Separated into its individual parts, one can clearly identify the various ideas Blomkamp was trying to merge in this film; and the special effects are spectacular with seamless CGI bringing the robot to life, as well as impressive action sequences. Unfortunately the end result is messier than many moviegoers will be willing to tolerate.
A.I. is at the centre of the narrative, which explores a fascinating possibility. Deon’s creation enters the world essentially a newborn. Chappie has no knowledge of the world and although he is a fast learner, he must still be initially taught as if he was a small child. As a result, Yolandi and Ninja become his surrogate parents. While she resembles a doting mother trying to protect her new charge, he views Chappie as just another machine. Chappie refers to them as “mommy” and “daddy,” and Deon is his “maker.” Deon tries to instil his invention with morals and creativity, Yolandi loves and encourages him, and Ninja teaches him to be gangsta complete with walk, hand gestures and weapons training. He hopes to turn Chappie into “the best gangster on the block.” The contrast in their lessons demonstrates the chief dilemma with Deon’s design: in the wrong hands, a robot with a blank slate could be disastrous.
Casting Ninja and Yolandi Visser of the South African rap-rave group Die Antwoord makes an interesting pairing of gangster culture and science fiction that’s rarely been seen (with the exception of Attack the Block). According to an interview with Ninja, Blomkamp was interested in working with the duo but they were uncomfortable portraying roles too removed from their stage personalities. So when the filmmaker was developing this film, he was inspired by the possibilities of Chappie being influenced by these characters. The over-the-top versions of the real-life performers contributes humour and cruelty to the narrative that is unique to them and the situation.
The weakest aspect of the picture is the injection of Vincent as the story’s villain. Jackman’s oddball, mullet-wearing, hostile ex-soldier seems incredibly out of place and awkward. His character is key to instigating the final showdown — which is visually striking — but any part he plays in the overall tale is generally unwelcome. Each time his character takes the screen, it virtually stops the narrative flow because his story is superfluous to the central one. Incorporating this character’s actions into other parts of the script could have greatly improved the film’s cohesiveness.
A scene from  Chappie
A scene from 'Chappie'
Sony Pictures
Conversely, Chappie is the movie’s strongest asset. Audiences sympathize with the childlike robot. From the moment he cowers from the unfamiliar faces surrounding him after being activated, viewers will find him endearing and become quickly invested in his development and well-being. Copley does a wonderful job bringing the machine to life. His emotions — from happiness to fear to sadness — appear completely genuine and even more honest than some of his human counterparts.
Blomkamp also pays homage to the many robot sci-fi films that came before him. A section of the score used throughout the movie is similar to one of the main Terminator themes. Vincent’s robot is operated in a manner similar to the Jaegers in Pacific Rim. Elements of Robocop are incorporated into the story and even Short Circuit has some influence.
Separated into its individual parts, the film can be quite captivating. However as a whole, it unfortunately appears disorganized and ill-conceived. As a result many Alien fans are concerned about Blomkamp’s direction of a new addition to the beloved franchise, but maybe he’s finally learned his lesson.
Director: Neill Blomkamp
Starring: Sharlto Copley, Dev Patel and Hugh Jackman
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