Film Review: Chappie

Chappie Poster

Chappie Plot Summary:

The designer (Dev Patel) of a successful army of robot police officers builds a chip that will allow a robot to think and feel like a human, but smarter.  When the maker is kidnapped by a group of thugs, the robot is turned on and becomes Chappie (Sharlto Copley), a child like robot who the gang tries to corrupt into committing crimes, attracting the attention of a misguided rival weapons developer (Hugh Jackman).

The best way to describe Chappie is if you took Steven Spielberg’s 2001 film A.I. Artificial Intelligence and replaced the philosophical elements with epic loud action.  While I prefer A.I., Chappie has its moments, despite some of its messier aspects by director Neill Blomkamp (District 9, Elysium).  While better than the yawn inducing Elysium, Chappie is no where near Blomkamp’s triumphant first effort.

Chappie pic 1

Within the first fifteen minutes, I was ready to hate this film.  It’s almost like Blomkamp copied and pasted what he did from District 9.  While the subject matter is different, the style, look, and shots of the film looked freakishly identical to District 9.  Not only that, but it was loud, and infused with obnoxious characters.  The gangster villains were really pissing me off.  They were screaming all over the place, the sound of the action was ear-deafening, and everything just sucked.  They also went out of their way to make these characters stand out to the point where it’s just pathetic.  Seriously, how many tattoos, clever t-shirt sayings, weird hair-cuts, and random clothing apparatus do we need?  To me, this was the film trying to cover up the lack of personality these characters actually had with fake ones.

Once you get through the opening melee though, the film changes.  It starts to focus on the company that built these robots, and this is where we get introduced to actual characters.  Dev Patel plays Deon Wilson who designed the robots, and the eventual emotion chip that changes everything.  He brought a lot of life to this role, and I immediately knew what this guy was about within the first five minutes of meeting him.  Sigourney Weaver doesn’t do much, but plays her part well as the not evil, but shrewd business woman.

The character who really sank his teeth into this project was Hugh Jackman.  The character is completely underwritten, but Jackman shows why he is the most underutilized actor in Hollywood.  The X-Men films are obviously great, and even though Jackman elevates everything he does, I wish he got better projects.  He always seems to be in solid, but not great movies.  In Chappie, Jackman plays Vincent Moore, a complete asshole, almost like a super villain jock.  He wants to impose his own ridiculous robot into the fold, but is constantly rejected and jealous of Deon.  There’s one scene in particular where Jackman threatens Deon at his cubicle.  It’s a fantastically acted sequence from Jackman.

chappie pic 2

As solid as most of the human characters were, this is all about Chappie, the robot with a soul.  Yes, it’s material we’ve seen before.  In fact, Chappie’s character development mirrors Caesar from Rise of the Planet of the Apes to a tee – the non human innocent child-like genius who becomes more bitter as he learns the harshness of the real world.  The bottom-line here is you care about Chappie a lot, and that’s why the film works more times than not.  The conflict of Chappie being born into a street gang and trying to grasp the idea of right and wrong was strong material.  And even though I didn’t like the gangster characters much at first, as Chappie starts to rub off on them, they become more interesting and less annoying.  Sharlto Copley also does a wonderful job with the voice.  I don’t know if the character works as well without him.  It was perfect.

What irritated me about this film is it could have been so much more.  While they pack a lot of story into Chappie’s character, I would have preferred a more subtle approach, as opposed to the overbearing action that is forced upon us.  The third act in particular is drawn out way too long, almost like a Michael Bay film, but classier.  Even though it runs a bit long, the end took some nice chances and was very unpredictable, which I give it a lot of credit for.  Chappie is a solid story with good performances and high emotion, but could have been better if Blomkamp’s direction were a bit tighter.  Let’s see what he does with Alien 5, or Alien 3 Re-Do, or whatever the hell it’s called.

Rating: 7 out of 10 (Good)

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Daniel Cohen is the Film Editor for Pop-Break. Aside from reviews, Daniel does a weekly box office predictions column, and also contributes monthly Top Tens and Op-Ed’s on all things film. Daniel is a graduate of Bates College with a degree in English, and also studied Screenwriting at UCLA. He can also be read on www.movieshenanigans.com. His movie crush is Jessica Rabbit. Follow him on Twitter @dcohenwriter.
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Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow's fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.