'Chappie': What the Critics Are Saying

Neill Blomkamp is back with another futuristic sci-fi adventure featuring a high-tech robot and an antagonistic Hugh Jackman.

Director Neill Blomkamp's latest offering is a sci-fi thriller set in a near future where crime is patrolled by a weaponized robotic police force. When one of the droids (Sharlto Copley) is stolen and given new programming, it gains the ability to think for itself and leads a revolution against the oppressive law enforcement. The film also stars Hugh Jackman, Dev Patel, and Sigourney Weaver

Opening on a projected soft weekend at the box office, the film is projected to earn somewhere between $14 and $20 million, a significantly smaller figure than Blomkamp's last two openings of $29 million and $37.4 million for Elysium and District 9, respectively. Still, Chappie is likely to earn the top spot this weekend over comedies Unfinished Business and The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

Read what the top critics are saying about Chappie

The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy calls it "a film well endowed with major [irritants], notably: unappealing one-note characters, retread concepts, implausible motivations and a ludicrous survival rate given the firepower expended upon the central figures. After the surprise and promise of District 9, this represents a further downward step for director Neill Blomkamp in the wake of the highly uneven Elysium," and says "Chappie is a charmless and irritating bugger. The way he's designed, with the barest semblance of a face, there's no entry point to invite human feelings for him, and his often frantic speech patterns are off-putting. Blomkamp regular Copley not only voiced the character but performed the role on-set so the other actors could relate to him, his character's actual look subsequently “painted” over the actor via CGI. The technique works flawlessly, but that doesn't make the character lovable."

"As the action mounts toward the end, any sense of plausible logistics and physical realities are tossed aside, as characters just sort of magically get from point A to B and end up right where they need to be to force an encounter or showdown." Though “the renegade, anti-establishment outlook of the director, who wrote the script with his District 9 partner Terri Tatchell, remains unmistakable, it's so pro forma and predictable here as to feel rote.” The “actors are straitjacketed with unlikable characters notable for their ill-advised judgment. No one's any fun here, even in their villainy.”

Los Angeles Times' Kenneth Turan notes the film is "cartoonish and preposterous, and not in a good way." It’s a “derivative endeavor, with echoes of everything from Dr. Frankenstein's creation to the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz, but being unoriginal is far from its biggest problem. Bad acting isn't Chappie's worst sin either, though what we see is pretty dire. For one thing, Blomkamp has given two key roles to a pair of fellow South Africans, the rave-rap singers Ninja and Yo-Landi Visser of the group Die Antwoord. Because they're not actors, it's no surprise that effective performance is beyond them, but that doesn't make watching them any less painful.” If the film “accomplishes anything, it's to make you wish that machines could make movies. They couldn't be any shoddier than this.”

The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw gives the film three stars, writing that the film is "a witty tribute to Robocop itself, wittier and more interesting than the recent dull remake. After the disappointment of Elysium, Blomkamp is back on his game." Its a "futuristic law-and-order nightmare set (like Blomkamp’s apartheid parable District 9) in a chaotic Johannesburg perennially on the verge of social breakdown" and when kidnapped by thugs the "gentle, sensitive creativity programmed into this childlike robot is perverted into a love of crime: the bewildered little robot boy becomes an angry, troubled robot teen. Later, when Chappie is briefly kidnapped by hostile forces, he will sob about being taken by a “man with a van”, like an abuse victim." The movie “is a broad, brash picture, which does not allow itself to get bogged down in arguing about whether or not “artificial intelligence” is possible. It has subversive energy and fun.”

Graham Fuller of New York Daily News also gives the film three stars and states, “Jackman is mildly entertaining in a rare villain role, but it’s not enough. Blomkamp and his wife and co-screenwriter, Terri Tatchell, throw in some interesting ideas, like the notion of storing an individual’s consciousness on a flash drive. Trouble is, Chappie is an overwhelming war zone of a movie that tries to do too many things — although encouraging thought is not among them."

Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips disagrees, giving a zero star rating. He writes, "Chappie is a whining, mewling, dithering, nattering bore. The film heaps humiliation, insult and physical injury onto this character throughout a very long two hours. Dark or light, sentimental or hard-edged, science fiction is usually better off not piling on, and watching Chappie's adversaries buzz saw one of his limbs off, or light him on fire, or turn him into a bling-laden gangsta for laughs, well … the mood swings are psychotic, and the entertainment value is off the charts in the wrong direction.” The "rooting interests in Chappie, such as they aren't, remain hopelessly conflicted, so that you care for nobody's survival, least of all the Wall-E knock-off . . . and I think Chappie is misspelled; somebody threw in an "h" where the "r" belongs."

USA Today's Claudia Puig says, "The best thing is the title character," calling it "endearing, poignant and admirable" and "watching Chappie go from what is essentially infancy to adolescence is fascinating." However, "scenes of thugs gone wild are extreme and almost silly. Drawn-out violent sequences grow wearying" and "portions of this dystopian action thriller begin to feel like a video game."

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