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“With the thoughts I’d be thinking I could be another Lincoln” sang the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz. He wanted a brain despite the fact he had enough intelligence to write and perform a song about it. Neill Blomkamp’s third feature film really needs a brain. There is a lot of stupidity just lazily lying around all over the place. Of course the main character is a robot with a lot of heart just like the Tin Man so a better comparison could have been made but the stupidity of this film is paramount to anything else and it makes for a snappier opening to a review even if it is as stupid and lazy as the film it’s reviewing.
Chappie is set in a near future Johannesburg of 2016 where crime is at an all time high so Dev Patel has designed Bunny eared robots to work alongside real cops as walking shields that also shoot guns. The CEO of the company, played by Sigourney Weaver, is happy with the numbers they are shifting and doesn’t want anything to do with rival designer Hugh Jackman’s big robots that look exactly like the big robots from Robocop.
Dev Patel creates robot consciousness on his laptop after drinking a lot of red bulls and pulling an all-nighter and uploads it onto a damaged robot that is then stolen by a trio of gangsters, two of whom are played by South African hip hop duo Yolandi Visser and Ninja, collectively known as Die Antwoord. The other gang member is played by an American actor whose characters name is “America”. They are in debt to the next level baddie, a shirtless maniac who has his own subtitles and is constantly shouting about wanting “everything” except, it seems, a shirt. They “raise” the robot as their own and the gang members Yolandi and Ninja become his surrogate Mum and Dad who teach him things like how to hold a gun sideways so it looks all cool like.
This is the sort of film that feels like it was written by a teenager. At one point Sigourney Weaver demands that Chappie be found and “burned to ashes” even though he is made primarily from titanium and this demand is rendered impossible due to the laws of physics. The realisation of Chappie through the motion capture performance of Sharlto Copley is well executed and a film focused more on his journey from child-like wonder to teenage angst would have been more enjoyable but the film he finds himself in is a mess.
Hugh Jackman and Sigourney Weaver in particular are completely wasted in a handful of scenes set mostly in the company boardrooms which come across like a horribly miscast version of The Office. At one point Weaver rings Dev Patel to check that she is still in the film. And when Chappie violently rampages though the offices towards the end of the film she runs for her life but not before first grabbing her jacket and phone. I felt like doing the same thing a lot sooner.