“Chappie” visually appealing but leaves much to be desired

Sony Pictures Entertainment

Despite high hopes, the third feature-length film from director Neill Blomkamp, “Chappie” falls short of expectations.

Taking place in the near future, “Chappie” follows a South African police droid (voiced by Sharlto Copley) that has become sentient, thanks to a new software developed by his “maker,” Deon Wilson, played by Dev Patel. Throughout the film, we see scout 22, now named “Chappie,” develop intelligence and humanity all while combating the human forces hell-bent on his destruction.

Now, while this film had numerous issues, it goes without saying that Neill Blomkamp’s style is, as always, impeccable. Every element from framing to lighting perfectly evokes emotion and gives genuine feeling to the film, even making the scenery come alive. There is no question that seeing “Chappie” is a worthwhile endeavor, visually. Unfortunately, it takes more than sight to experience a film.

It is difficult to describe how poor the writing of “Chappie” truly is. Every bit of dialogue, though delivered well by quality actors, sounds cheesy and awkward. That coupled with the shockingly abrupt editing make for awful character sympathy. Every time there is supposed to be a moment where the audience sees Chappie learning, feeling or thinking, we are suddenly torn away and thrown into an action sequence or scene change. This severely reduces the amount of love we have for the character of Chappie.

In essence, it would appear that the movie is too short for the amount of emotion that it is meant to convey. We wind up feeling compassion not for what Chappie is, but for what we assume he is supposed to be. We don’t love Chappie the character, we love Chappie the idea. And those ideas were not created in this film either. Anyone who has seen “The Iron Giant” or “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” will quickly link those with “Chappie.” So, it’s not so much that we care about this character, but we care about the other characters so much that we fill in the blanks. In fact, the first half of “Chappie” is quite similar to “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.” The difference though is that “Apes” lingers on the education and growth of their prodigy, whereas “Chappie” pushes too hard and too fast, losing some heart in the process.

And of course it wouldn’t be a Blomkamp film without the conclusion that so easily welcomes a sequel that we all are going to want, but will sadly never get. (I’m looking at you, “District 9.”)

Less than that, though, is the fact that an hour into the film it becomes less a movie about a sentient robot and more an hour-long Die Antwoord advertisement. Don’t get me wrong, the acting of Ninja and Yo-Landi Visser was quite impressive, but it certainly takes you out of the film when you see the poor gangster-struggling-to-get-by walk up wearing a shirt with his own face on it and the name of a famous music ensemble emblazoned on the back. Not to mention the fact that they weren’t given character names either; they used their own stage personas. Having said that, as someone with no previous exposure to Die Antwoord, the acting and imagery was slight. It’s hard to imagine how oppressive their presence would be if they were a household name.

All of that said, “Chappie” is not inherently bad. For the casual movie-goer, the film is an entertaining and emotional ride that’s well-worth the ticket price. For those more intimately involved with the art of film, “Chappie” may be a swing and a miss. Fortunately for Blomkamp, two strikes isn’t an out, and his worst films are still miles ahead of many directors’ best, but only time will tell if he can pull himself back up on the pedestal we made for him after “District 9.”

 

Update: the headline for the article was changed from “”Chappie” fall short” to ““Chappie” visually appealing but leaves much to be desired”. 11:27 p.m. 3/10/2015