Neill Blomkamp struck gold with his debut film District 9 back in 2009. It was a fresh, tight, and exciting film. His sophomore effort, Elysium, did not fair as well. It was bloated, full of plot holes, and lacked the passion that District 9 had. His latest, Chappie, fairs about as well as Elysium did, resulting in a film with a great idea that is weighed down by superfluous material, over-the-top acting, and an often nonsensical script.
The city of Johannesburg is monitored by a large population of robotic policemen in the year 2016. They are effective, the crime rates are down, and they are replaceable. Deon, a software tech at the manufacturer of the robots, dreams of a robot that has complete artificial intelligence, which leads him to stealing a nearly demolished robot and installing his software into him, producing Chappie (voiced by Sharlto Copley). Vincent Moore, a fellow engineer, is jealous of his inventions because his own robots are not being used. Tying all of these individual threads together is the groups of gangsters who desperately need money to pay off another gangster who will kill them otherwise, so they kidnap Deon and start raising Chappie for nefarious reasons.
Chappie would have ended up totally fine if it it had focused on one of these aspects, but when all of them are jumbled together, it makes for a weird hodgepodge of a movie. Dev Patel, who plays Deon, is extremely awkward and tends to over-act in his anger about certain things. However, he is one of the most “human” characters in the film, essentially the father of Chappie, so luckily he makes up for it on that end. Hugh Jackman, who plays the rival engineer, is so over-the-top in his attempts to be villainous—for such dumb motives at that—that he seems almost like a waste. Sigourney Weaver as the boss of the company is also wasted opportunity because she hardly appears in the film at all. It is almost like Blomkamp needed to have the extra star power to distract from the unknown South African actors who play the gangsters. Most of them are unlikable, save for Yolandi(Yo-Landi Visser), because they too are villainous characters that have few likable qualities.
The film has social issues just as his two previous films, but this time it is all about being ok with being different. It is less brutal and socially charged, but it is still relevant. However, due to its over-stuffed script, we miss out on it having a strong emotional resonance. What could be a powerful and teary-eyed conclusion is muddled, rushed, and cramped with so much material that we are almost anxious for it to get over. Blomkamp seems like he tried to fill so many plot points into the first two thirds, that the final act is blown completely out of proportion, with so many ends to tie up, that a lot of the events that take place are brushed over like nothing.
In the end, Chappie continues to be a decline in Blomkamp’s career. In what could be a great story, he ends up getting lost in trying to tell a crowd pleasing tale rather than a personal one. Its performances are over exaggerated and wasted for such strong star power, and it never fulfills on what could be a truly emotional tale. Nevertheless, it is sprinkled with enough moments of fun and action to make it at enjoyable, but it is still not what it could have been.