Review: Chappie

chappie 2

7 March 2015

Chappie, directed by sci-fi aficionado Neill Blomkamp, is the latest in a long line of films to explore Artificial Intelligence with subtext and a commentary on the human condition. It comes hot on the heels of the excellent Ex Machina, but notably released in a period where film studios try to hide films they have little confidence in; i.e. just after the celebrity selfie takeover of Twitter and heavy Weinstein-funded promotion around Awards season is subsiding. I can appreciate the critical panning this is getting in certain quarters but it’s well worth watching to form your own conclusions. There is as much to love as there is to detest.

The film’s many themes are broad and spelt out in CAPITAL LETTERS, treating the audience like robots gaining intelligence. The human characters are one-dimensional caricatures and the casting of a band in such important leading roles is a huge misstep. I assume they are there to add a subversive edge but hip hop duo, Ninja and Yo Landi Visser, provide nothing but frustration in their inability to act, instilling almost as much annoyance as the constant product placement. Maybe it’s because I haven’t seen a blockbuster in a while but the branding is a ridiculously overt presence. Apparently, a well known energy drink not only gives you wings but also the ability to finalise coding a sentient robot…

chappieMuch has been made of Sony’s lack of support for this project, which at points seems to have been treated by the studio as an excuse to advertise the Playstation 4. I mean, c’mon Sony, in a dystopian future such as this, we’ll all be blocking out the homicides staring at the console’s SIXTH incarnation. Why they gave up on the film at such an early stage and so publicly is a disappointing mystery, but I’m guessing the script didn’t help matters. Sigourney Weaver tries her best to wrestle with it but fails whilst Hugh Jackman is just plain leaden. But if you just let yourself go with it, forgetting the threadbare plot and lack of any meaningful character development, Chappie bursts with energy and is a lot of fun.

The motion-capture and vocal performance of Sharlto Copley in the lead role is fantastic and the animation is spot on, prickling with humour and tellingly making Chappie the most relatable character in the movie. The entirely electronic Hans Zimmer score drives the movie along and covers up holes when the actors are doing very little to help. The action is brash but treated well by Blomkamp, who directs with characteristic momentum. There is enough variety that the pyrotechnics never become tiresome and the climactic showdown is genuinely thrilling. Somehow, the stakes are heightened from nowhere and the conclusion is both unexpected and thought provoking

It’s wholly unreliable, suffers from some ragged, lazy scripting and frequent errors but Johnny 5 is still alive!


James Hobson