I’m not sure what the tagline used on various posters promoting Neill Blomkamp‘s latest film is actually referring to. It certainly doesn’t relate to the story that plays out during CHAPPiE‘s 120 minute running time. It must be a constant frustration for filmmakers that the promotional arm of the studio/ studios that back their projects are just really looking for snappy one-liners and action-filled trailers to pull the audience in. Maybe a little less spoiler-filled trailer content and a little more attention to the narrative will provide a more intelligent advertising campaign.
So what of this next chapter in the Wunderkind’s oeuvre? Well, to be frank, it’s something of a disappointment. Ever since Mr. Blomkamp’s attachment to a long-wished-for Halo movie adaptation – and those kind words uttered by Peter Jackson – there has been much scrutiny of anything he’s involved with. That District 9 turned out to be such a surprise hit pretty much hindered his burgeoning directorial career; his two subsequent films (Elysium and now CHAPPiE) never living up to the hype surrounding his obvious talent. I’ve no axe to grind. I’m a huge fan of Neill Blomkamp. I was thoroughly invested in the intelligent story and stellar performance of Sharlto Copley in District 9 and found Elysium to be better than the reviews suggested.
The issues with CHAPPiE stem from the simplistic nature of the narrative. One could argue that positioning our protagonist in this particular situation and using his creator, played by Dev Patel, as our moral compass helps the audience to identify with an idealistic viewpoint, creating an interesting situation. What it actually leads to is frustration. That those who are able to influence CHAPPiE outside of his creator’s control are neither likable nor redeemable fuels this frustration. Manipulating the audience to care for and feel sorry for CHAPPiE through the way he is treated by his surrogate owners and for them to be referred to as his parents is problematic. Such shallow attempts to gain the audience’s favour shows a surprising weakness in the writing. Which is a shame.
Where CHAPPiE is not let down is the use of CGI and its central character is performed by Neill Blomkamp regular Sharlto Copley. The seamless use of motion-capture clearly knows no bounds and I would expect nothing less from a filmmaker whose background is in visual effects. Mr. Copley’s performance is outstanding and it’s nice to see someone garnering praise for such work other than Andy Serkis. He’s clearly the go-to guy for all things motion-captured – and quite rightly so. His pioneering groundwork has clearly paved the way for filmmakers and actors alike to feel comfortable in the knowledge that undertaking such work will garner great results. Huge Action looks like he’s enjoying playing a bit of a poo-bag and Dev Patel once again shows what he’s capable of.
There’s plenty to admire in CHAPPiE, but there’s an overarching notion that this is the wrong story to tell with this particular character. It’s not a waste of 120 minutes by any means, but it’s no District 9 either.
Thank you for reading 🙂