Is 2015 the year of the artificial intelligence in cinema? It certainly seems that way. Following Alex Garland’s “Ex Machina” in January, “District 9” and “Elysium” director Neill Blomkamp returns with his latest blockbuster “Chappie”.
With Johannesburg overridden with criminals, the police force is using law-enforcement robots in a bid to restore order. The virtually indestructible titanium robots are the brainchild of young engineer Deon Wilson (Dev Patel), who is working on a consciousness program – an idea that doesn’t impress his boss Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver).
Despite the setback, Deon decides to create his artificial intelligence in secret. Upon completion of his consciousness program, Deon is kidnapped by a group of desperate drug dealers/gangsters (Ninja and Yolandi Visser), who want to use the robot to help them pull of a heist so that they can pay the money they owe to Hippo (Brandon Auret) – a local drug lord. Meanwhile, Deon’s work colleague Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman) tails Deon in an attempt to interfere with his plans.
Despite being relatively easy to follow, the plot is unnecessarily complex and often nonsensical. The script is littered with plot holes, as viewers regularly question the bizarre actions of the characters. There’s a nagging feeling of disbelief that stays with the viewer throughout the two hour running time.
Blomkamp’s decision to cast South African rappers Ninja and Visser as “zef” gangsters is certainly questionable. The pair, who portray exaggerated versions of their outlandish identities, are difficult to take seriously, especially when they’re donning their own band t-shirts and listening to their own music. Whilst their initial shouty, gun-waving melodramatic behaviour is almost unbearable, they soon settle into their retrospective roles.
As for the rest of the cast, Dev Patel is perfectly suited to the role of the timid programmer. Hugh Jackman also puts in a great performance, although his talents aren’t fully utilised, as his villainous character feels particularly one-dimensional, whilst Sigourney Weaver is somewhat underused.
Yet it’s Chappie (voiced by Sharlto Copley) who proves to be the real star of the film. Despite being a good robot at heart, it’s a case of nature versus nurture, as Deon encourages him to be gentle and creative, while the gangsters teach him slang and try to coach him to take part in a heist. It’s the latter which provides the film’s most humorous moments, with a sequence involving Chappie stealing cars producing the biggest laughs.
Chappie is brilliantly brought to life through some remarkable special effects. Blomkamp, once again, demonstrates his flair for exceptional visuals on a fairly low budget as each of the law enforcement robots (including Chappie himself) is flawlessly photorealistic. It’s certainly spectacular to look at, even if the script lacks substance.