'Chappie': The reviews are in...
Director Neill Blomkamp became a film-nerd superstar with his 2009 debut, District 9, a low-tech effects-driven movie about alien ghettos and segration politics in South Africa. Elysium, with a larger budget and a pair of Ivy League megastars to boot—Matt Damon and Jodie Foster—proved, if anything, that bigger wasn’t necessarily better. Now comes Chappie, Blomkamp’s third film, the story of a repurposed police robot who is programmed by his idealistic creator, Deon (Slumdog Millionaire‘s Dev Patel), to be sentient, to think and feel.
Voiced by Sharlto Copley, Chappie falls in with some troublemakers, who envision him as their new weapon against the menacing robotic Scouts that have cracked down on the underworld. “[They] teach him how to be a cartoonish gangbanger, and plan to use him to execute a big money heist while Deon struggles to take his creation back,” EW‘s Kyle Anderson writes in his review. “What follows is an hour of a reasonable-enough meditation on parenting styles followed by an inevitable series of too-loud action beats sparked by Deon’s rival engineer Vincent (Hugh Jackman, just inhaling scenery) and a ridiculous series of events involving the full download of human consciousness.”
The film also stars Sigourney Weaver, a sci-fi goddess ever since Alien (and Blomkamp is now slated to direct the next sequel in that classic franchise.) But Chappie is also evoking comparisons to another beloved sci-fi franchise, though in a negative light. The epithet of Jar-Jar Binks has been thrown around to describe Chappie’s personality, and that might be a kiss of death.
For more elaborate analysis, click below for a round-up of reviews from around the country.
Kyle Anderson (Entertainment Weekly)
“When we’re first introduced, he’s an overwhelmed infant, and by the time the credits roll, he’s John McClane. Is that an accurate representation of how artificial intelligence can evolve? Absolutely. Does it make for compelling drama? Not particularly. There are a lot of ideas kicking around in Chappie: the nature/nurture debate, the validity of various approaches to parenting, the moral and ethical questions surrounding artificial intelligence, the very nature of sentience and consciousness. But none of those ideas are explored enough…”
Liam Lacey (Toronto Globe and Mail)
“A movie about a robot policeman given a childlike conscience, Chappie is one of those incongruous Franken-films that’s simultaneously bombastically brutal and treacly. Like E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial crossed with Transformers, or RoboCop starring Jar-Jar Binks, it’s a recipe guaranteed to produce aesthetic indigestion.”
Mick LaSalle (San Francisco Chronicle)
“Chappie has an unconscious life to it. Unlike most modern sci-fi films, which deal entirely in external movements, there’s an internal quality about this. There’s a tangle of feelings, impulses and ideas at work here that can’t completely be untied or explained but that identifies the story as something coming from a real place within the filmmaker, a place beyond intention.”
Manohla Dargis (The New York Times)
“In some movies, allusions to other movies build on earlier thinking or, at times, become an index of authorial self-regard, intended mostly to close the distance between the original and the copy. Here, the allusions feel like the handiwork of someone who’s eager to make something cool and so borrows with promiscuous abandon.”
Justin Chang (Variety)
“Mashing together various elements from director Neill Blomkamp’s earlier sci-fi pictures (including another prominent role for Sharlto Copley), this South African spin on Short Circuit displays the same handheld immediacy and scene-setting verve as its predecessors, but all in service of a chaotically plotted story and a central character so frankly unappealing he almost makes Jar-Jar Binks seem like tolerable company by comparison.”
Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times) ▼
“The key culprit, inevitably, is auteur Blomkamp, who in this film favors a filmmaking style so sloppy and crude it’s impossible to tell if it’s the result of intention or ineptitude. Either way, in the absence of the strong ideas that animated District 9, Chappie is close to unwatchable for long stretches of time.”
Stephen Whitty (Newark Star-Ledger) ▼
“I’d ask what director and cowriter Neil Blomkamp was thinking, but I can safely guess: He’s thinking it was some sort of brilliant social commentary, just the way his overpraised District 9 commented on racial politics (only 25 years or so after Alien Nation did it better) and Elysium hysterically criticized the costs of medical care. Give Blomkamp a sledgehammer, and he’ll give you an editorial.”
David Edelstein (New York)
“Chappie—articulated by Blomkamp mascot Sharlto Copley—has his finer points. As a scaredy-cat ‘child,’ he throws up his steel arms and cowers spastically behind pieces of furniture, and his clumsy use of gangsta slang is funny in small doses. I like his tin-man mandibles and square peepers. But that voice! It really is as if Jar-Jar and C-3PO had mated to create the world’s most insufferable automaton.”
Michael O’Sullivan (Washington Post)
“In the role of a man who will stop at nothing—including allowing the streets of Johannesburg to descend into chaos in order to create more demand for his product—Jackman is simply painful to watch. But not as painful as it is to contemplate how naively the film treats the concept of artificial intelligence and robotics.”
Todd McCarthy (Hollywood Reporter)
“With the partial exception of [Yo-Landi] Visser, whose punky veneer nicely melts into motherly concern and warmth, the actors are straitjacketed with unlikable characters notable for their ill-advised judgment. No one’s any fun here, even in their villainy.”
Claudia Puig (USA Today)
“As Blomkamp melds big ideas with breathtaking action, the forces are sometimes at cross purposes. Scenes of thugs gone wild are extreme and almost silly. Drawn-out violent sequences grow wearying. … The titular character is the most endearing robot since WALL•E. Where that animated film made a dramatic social statement, Chappie gets mired in too many menacing subplots with cartoonish bad guys.”
Overall Metacritic rating (1-100): 42
Rotten Tomatoes: 31 percent
Length: 114 minutes
Starring Dev Patel, Sharlto Copley, Hugh Jackman, Sigourney Weaver
Directed by Neill Blomkamp