xXx: Return of Xander Cage
The last forty minutes of the movie do come together in a pretty diverting way.
While out promoting his latest film, "Chappie," filmmaker Neill Blomkamp, who achieved great critical and commercial success with his 2009 debut "District 9," has made a couple of announcements that have attracted much attention from the fanboy set: his next project will be a new entry in the venerable "Alien" franchise and he has admitted that he feels that he messed up with his previous film, the hugely disappointing sci-fi allegory "Elysium". Based on this, I can only assume that when he hits the junket circuit in a couple of years to hype his "Alien" film, he will spend part of his time apologizing for "Chappie" as well because its failures are so pronounced that they make the artistic sins of "Elysium" seem minor by comparison.
According to the faux-news reports that open the film, the police force in near-future Johannesburg, South Africa has been replaced with human-sized and heavily-armed robots that, while not indestructible, are powerful enough to have inspired a steep drop in the crime rate. For Tetra Vaal, the defense firm charged with supplying the robots, business is booming and other countries are set to place orders as well. However, Deon (Dev Patel), the brilliant designer who created the robot cops, is somewhat disenchanted and wants to make a more meaningful contribution to society. To that end, it appears that he has stumbled upon a way of endowing machines with true artificial intelligence so that they can learn, create and feel just like actual humans. This does not go over particularly well with his boss (Sigourney Weaver) and so, using the remains of bombed-out bot Scout 22, he decides to conduct some off-base experiments, arousing the suspicions of nasty office rival Vincent (Hugh Jackman), whose own prototype for a crime-fighting robot has been shunted aside, partly because of the success of Deon's creation and partly because his creation looks like the ED-209 sans the gazelle-like grace and is controlled by a virtual-reality helmet that makes the user look like a participant in "VR.5" cosplay.
Alas, while leaving the office, Deon is kidnapped by a trio of low-level thugs—Ninja (Ninja), Yo-Landi (Yo-Landi Visser) and Amerika (Jose Pablo Cantillo)—who are convinced that he has the ability to switch off all the robot cops so that they can commit a $20 million heist in order to repay a pressing debt to a violent local drug lord. Deon cannot do that but when they discover that he has a robot with him, they demand that he get it running so that they can use it for their own purposes. Deon successfully installs his AI program and revives the robot, now dubbed Chappie (and performed by Blomkamp regular Sharlto Copley) and coming across like a big metallic child that inspires some unexpectedly maternal feelings from Yo-Landi. While she and Deon try to instill the blank slate that is Chappie with all the right things—intelligence, kindness, an artistic temperament and the ability to know right from wrong—the harsher Ninja and Amerika show him the darker side of humanity in the hopes of getting him to help with their heist plans. About this time, Vincent gets wind of Chappie's existence and sets in motion a plan to neutralize the robot cops and plunge the city into chaos, a move that will eliminate his rival and force the company to let him deploy his creation to save the day. Spoiler alert: his plan proves to be as ungainly as his creation and while Johannesburg is going up in flames, Chappie's increasing developed soul is torn between the lofty ideals of his creator or the baser instincts inspired by the real world.
Although I wasn't quite as over the moon in regards to "District 9" as some people, it was nevertheless an ambitious work that combined genre thrills with a thoughtful allegory about the horrors of apartheid. "Elysium" was another attempt at a science-fiction allegory, this time about the importance of universal health care, but did so in such a absurdly heavy-handed manner that even the most ardent supporters of the ACA found it to be a tedious slog. Presumably in response to the rejection of that film, Blomkamp and co-writer Terri Tatchell (his wife and collaborator on "District 9"), have largely eschewed any grand political subtext this time around but have neglected to bring in anything new or interesting as a replacement. The basic questions posed here—can a machine somehow develop consciousness and, if so, what does that mean for humanity—are ones that have been explored in any number of films over the years, and "Chappie" brings nothing new to the table in this regard and eventually abandons all of its philosophical musings for a series of noisy but largely anonymous action set-pieces.