Having taken a detour to Elysium, Blomkamp is now back on the streets of Johannesburg – where a series of oppressive droids have been employed to take over the law enforcement in this crime-heavy environment. The manufacturing company – run by Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver) is proving to be a big hit, mostly thanks to the diligence and über intelligence of inventor Deon Wilson (Dev Patel). However the latter’s ambition could be his downfall, opening up an entire world of dangerous possibilities when creating the very first AI, with a programme that could be downloaded into these machines, and give them a conscious.
That very machine is Chappie (Sharlto Copley), though the future of this risky project is dependent on the robot’s nurturing, as despite Deon’s best efforts, a collective of rogue, punk criminals steal Chappie with the hope that they can teach it to fight on their side, and oppose the police. All the while bitter inventor Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman) is determined to take Chappie down and prove his worth as Deon’s colleague, and take away some of his limelight.
Initially, Chappie appears as something of a Wall-E, Baymax type figure, and when first encountering violence we feel desperately sorry for it, in what is the most emotive sequence of the movie. The problem is, Chappie almost gathers too much personality and is too vocal, losing that sense of vulnerability. Though initially like a lost puppy, as the film progresses Chappie becomes increasingly less endearing. Nonetheless, our investment in the character never falters, such is the remarkable use of motion capture, in a production that, for all of its flaws, is one helluva visual experience.
There is some depth to this picture, in the theme of nurturing this machine, as the criminals who steal Chappie take on the form of parents. But it becomes quite mawkish in parts and is executed in an incredibly unsubtle manner. But that being said, it’s an essential narrative device, as the way the impressionable Chappie is brought up and taught the ways of the world is what dictates how this film will conclude, and is plays on real life, human themes in that regard – and the role parents play in their kid’s future. We see Chappie go through all of the stages too, beginning a baby, frightened and unable to speak, to when a clumsy young child, to a stroppy, rebellious adolescent.
The concept to this film holds so much potential, but it just hasn’t been handled in an accomplished enough manner. Chappie sets itself up to be a truly breathtaking study of robot and human relations, but just fails to move or compel the audience. In the meantime, perhaps not enough is done to utilise the credentials of the cast – with Weaver in particular not in this title nearly enough. Here’s hoping she a little more to do in that next Alien movie, eh?