Neill Blomkamp’s ambitious efforts to make Chappie an endearing A.I. falls just short of a tall order

ON CONTINUITY
ARTH VADER (AV): Sci-fi wunderkind director Neil Blomkamp brings a another A.I./Singularity/Robot Evolution storyline to the big screen in Chappie. One glaring point of continuity is Blomkamp’s love affair with South Africa. Apparently, all science-fiction; A.I. enlightenment, alien invasions, and new technologies gone wrong all occur in South Africa. In keeping with popular Singularity stories, Chappie is the story of A.I. becomes self-aware. 

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): Science fiction has been inundated with the story of robots becoming self-aware. Artificial intelligence has been a staple of the genre since I have been watching it. The trick these days is to make a film that presents this in a unique and moving way. I think the filmmakers understood that and actively attempted to give a unique look at an old subject.

CASTING, ACTING & DIRECTING
AV: What would a Blomkamp movie be without a starring role for Sharlto “District 9 & Elysium” Copley? Copley does the V.O. for Chappie and its palatable but no great insight there. Dev “Slumdog” Patel is sub-par in his role as programmer Deon Wilson (so not the name of someone he could portray). Perhaps the weirdest casting from Chappie comes from Hugh “Snikt!” Jackman, who plays the role of mercenary Vincent Moore. I honestly have NO IDEA why he was in this film, P-Man. He was fine but someone of his (Hollywood) status seemed far out-of-place in the role and added close to nothing to the experience. What were your thoughts, old friend?

TP: This film has the same “feel” as “District 9” and “Elysium” and it’s no surprise as all of them were done by Neill Blomkamp. Using big names may have been a tactic to draw moviegoers in as there didn’t seem to be much depth to Sigourney Weaver’s role, but I dare say it might have worked in the case of casting Hugh Jackman as the villain (a role we don’t normally see him in). Big names aside, I enjoyed the performance of Dev Patel, and Sharlto Copley as Chappie absolutely stole the film.

ON SPECIAL EFFECTS
AV: Kind of a shoulder shrug when we discuss the visual effects of Chappie. Nothing I hadn’t seen before of sure and while there was general sense of wonder watching the police bots—and later Chappie–walk around amongst people. It did become seamless but major demerits for showing Moore’s ED-209 knock-off tooling around as a walking tank. Honestly, it seemed like it was planted there just to be the robe-antagonist. That said, while the visual effects were mediocre, the film is good–looking and the end fight scene is particularly well done–visually speaking. 

TP: The effects were absolutely awesome here Vader. What was CGI? What was real? I don’t know. It all meshed together seamlessly and in the final analysis, that is exactly what you want from your effects in a film. You want the effects to advance the story and become a part of the film, which will have the effect of setting the film apart from other films. The effects of this film accomplished that and the fact I saw it in IMAX was just icing on the cake.
TAKING A CLOSER LOOK
AV: As much of a fan as I have been of Neill Blomkamp’s work (District 9, Elysium, and lest we not forget he was Spielberg’s choice for the never-saw-the-light-of-day Halo film), I am getting quite tired of every Blomkamp sci-fi film being set in South Africa. Even though Neill and District 9/Elysium co-writer Terri Tatchell produced Chappie’s original script, his storytelling is growing stale. The bloom is definitely off the rose and we are in a place of stagnancy with his work. Neill needs to break himself out of these familiar places. His ideas are strong but the execution is waning fast. 
As for Chappie, the name is bogus and sinks the film with its potential audiences. American audiences need things dumbed down to the point where the tile is either something familiar or completely descriptive. Chappie is neither of these and that accounts for a tailspin at the box office that jeopardizes future indie sci-fi flicks as well. 

TP: If you don’t like that “South African” feel, then this was a tough film for you to watch. I don’t mind it at all and was able to fully enjoy and appreciate this film. As I said before, artificial intelligence has been done numerous times before, but this film has managed to make an emotional connection through the innocence and victimization of Chappie. I was amazed at this considering that when you really look at Chappie, he does not resemble a human in his features, but exudes humanity in his experiences. Seeking the acceptance of his parents, brutalized by bullies, tricked into nefarious actions, coming to terms with mortality… these are all real-life situations easily identifiable by anyone that has been a child, and I think this was the real appeal and energy of Chappie.
ON SEQUELS
AV: Strictly speaking for myself here, I was tired of this film by the 3rd act and was fast moving toward being impartial to the characters and the plot. Personally I see no need for a follow-up and would be really disenchanted at the prospect of seeing another. P-Man? 
TP: The door has been left wide open for a sequel Vader, however this is one of those films that doesn’t need to continue as it is a masterpiece in itself. Sometimes leaving the audience to imagine their own continuation is what makes the film that much more special.
RATE IT!
ARTH VADER rates Chappie: Neill Blomkamp remains a science fiction visionary, merging popular sci-fi story arcs and mythos with engaging, human-driven plots and stories. Chappie comes close but doesn’t quite get us there. With a slew of visual effects and an ambitious  screenplay, Chappie still falls short of impressive and ends up being a forgettable ‘swing-and-a-miss’ film. Chappie is not a bad film but its just not particularly good. A film barely worthy of the movie-going experience, Chappie fails to ignite the imagination we have come to love from Blomkamp and delivers–in my humble opinion-six (6) busted blocks. 
THE PONTIFICATOR rates Chappie: I really enjoyed this film and thought it was truly a masterpiece to be able to tell a story of humanity through the experiences of a robot. It wasn’t just a story of artificial intelligence, but a story of the human experience and easily brought eight (8) busted blocks to life.

Chappie – 7 / 10 Busted Blocks