‘Chappie’ Reviews: Do Critics Think This Robocop Tops Neill Blomkamp’s ‘District 9’?

Consensus is building on filmmaker’s latest vision of the future starring Hugh Jackman, Dev Patel, Sigourney Weaver and Sharlto Copley

Neill Blomkamp‘s “Chappie” is expected to top the box office this weekend, but critics are split on whether it’s better than his Oscar-nominated directorial debut “District 9” or even “Elysium.”

The science-fiction tale starring Hugh Jackman, Dev Patel and Sigourney Weaver about the eponymous futuristic police droid that becomes the first robot to develop the ability to think and feel for himself has a 41 percent “rotten” approval rating from critics counted so far on Rotten Tomatoes.

Despite commending the visual effects, TheWrap‘s James Rocchi was among those who found the South African filmmaker’s third feature to be no better than his second, “Elysium,” which many felt was a weaker vision of the future he sold audiences in “District 9.”

“And yet all of the visual rapture in the film — the unleashing of the Moose, the way Chappie’s movements become more and more human — can’t replace the numbing sensation that comes as ‘Chappie’ recycles and riffs on ‘District 9’ and ‘Elysium’ from its opening credits to its hackneyed final shot,” Rocchi wrote in his review. “Throughout this film you’ll be told repeatedly in whispers and shouts that the now self-aware Chappie has feelings. It’s too bad that neither the philosophy nor the pyrotechnics on-screen in ‘Chappie’ can distract you from your own sinking feeling that you’ve seen almost all of this before.”

Arizona Republic critic Bill Goodykoontz summed up “Chappie” as “good work buried inside a movie made up of intriguing ideas that never really go anywhere.”

“When a robot is the best actor in a movie, the movie has troubles,” Goodykoontz wrote. “Jackman grows increasingly cartoonish, Weaver is wasted and Patel just sort of exists, typing furiously on a laptop every now and then to let us know he’s doing something. However, Blomkamp regular Sharlto Copley is quite good — as Chappie, in a motion-capture performance.”

Vanity Fair critic Richard Lawson’s opinion was blunt. “‘Chappie’ is a mess,” he wrote before saying a few nice things about a film he believes was ruined by too many plot holes.

“He’s a good director, he’s got visual and aural taste. But, a writer he is not,” Lawson said. “Blomkamp, and his co-writer Terri Tatchell, take far too many shortcuts, turning what could have been a thoughtful sci-fi movie about singularity and technological evolution into a meaningless jumble of deus ex machina contrivances and action movie cliches.”

The Sony Pictures release does have its fans, however. And with only 32 reviews available at the moment, the critics consensus could turn in favor of “Chappie.”

“Writer-director Neill Blomkamp is in love with action. He’s in love with CGI characters, computers in general and the dystopian future that is always two or three or five years away and always horrible. Yet ‘Chappie’ is invested with such humanity, a seemingly effortless delicacy of feeling, that it makes one suspect that, even if movies continue in this machine direction, they’ll never fully give way to machines,” San Francisco Chronicle critic Mick LaSalle wrote in his review. “When you get to the level of art, there’s a human strain that’s irreducible, that has to be there, or else there’s nothing. And Blomkamp is definitely an artist.”

Guardian critic Peter Bradshaw found “Chappie” to be “an entertaining new variation on the traditional droid theme.”

“In fact, it’s 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,” Bradshaw wrote. “Chappie 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.”

Time Out critic Tom Huddleston acknowledged the flaws other critics pounced on, but ultimately recommended what he described as a “lovably scattergun cybernetic satire.”

“‘Chappie’ the film isn’t so perfect. The plot is threadbare, the nods to ‘RoboCop’ are laid on thick and it’s hard to overlook the fact that Blomkamp has made another Jo’burg-based movie strangely lacking in black characters,” Huddleston wrote. “But with its stunning urban landscapes, trash-talking titanium hero and mulleted, God-bothering bad guy (Hugh Jackman, never better), this hugely entertaining oddity could never be mistaken for the work of any other filmmaker.”