The generally negative reviews I’ve seen of Chappie pretty much talked me out of any desire to see it, but then a couple of friends gave it the thumbs up, so I decided to give it a try after all. I can’t say I thought it was a particularly good movie, but it was fun. There’s a playfulness to it that I liked, and it seems to be largely the result of casting the South African musicians Ninja and Yo-Landa Visser in key roles. Their acting and characters are somewhat limited, but their anarchic sensibility gives the film a slightly off-kilter, almost improvisitory feeling that I liked. Unfortunately, the story it has to tell of a police robot that’s loaded with an experimental artificial intelligence program is a not particularly interesting variation on the Pinocchio story.
I’m not sure exactly where this went awry, but one problem is that none of the characters is very vivid. Hugh Jackman is cast interestingly against type as a weasely villain, but then he isn’t given much bite, and Sigourney Weaver is completely wasted as the CEO of the robotics corporation that builds the police robots. Dev Patel is also a rather ineffectual character, and maybe that’s really the problem with all the characters. They are all ineffectual, and it seems like the plot consists of people running around trying to do things and failing, often stupidly. Well, maybe that’s a commentary on the human condition.
Along with the countercultural appeal of the two musicians, who play gangsters, the other thing that works in Chappie is the humor. It was surprisingly funny, and I suppose the flailing nature of much of the action does feed into that. It also has some striking visual artistry and some nice music by Hans Zimmer.
I didn’t find what it had to say about intelligence and morality very interesting, but there was enough good stuff that I enjoyed the movie over all. I certainly didn’t expect what happens in the end. It’s a little offbeat, which is a good thing, although it probably didn’t help it at the box office. There’s definitely room for a sequel that will probably never be made. According to Rotten Tomatoes the audience like this a lot more than the critics did. Not sure why the critics were so hard on it.