In August of 2009, I battered everyone who would listen, with my towering praise of Neil Blomkamp’s feature film debut, “District 9”. “No, it’s not some silly sci-fi, creature-feature”, I insisted, “it’s a sly, anti-apartheid, social segregation allegory, in the guise of an action thriller–utilizing spaceships and aliens”. That was my argument then, and I still occasionally pull it into play. When “District 9” went on to garner 4 Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay, I enjoyed a certain level of sweet vindication (which should NOT suggest, that I consider THAT barometer, the ultimate one). Neil Blomkamp was a new, exciting voice and visionary for the cinematic scene. But that was then, and this is now.
When Blomkamp released his follow-up, “Elysium”, in the summer of 2013, a little air seeped out of my balloon. “District 9” was great. “Elysium”…not-so-good. Not terrible–especially considering the strong physical performance from Matt Damon, and a nifty villain turn from “District 9” star, Sharlto Copley. But certainly not up to the standard set by its predecessor, even when factoring in the once-again presence of glaring political and social metaphors (too glaring, this time). Sophomore slump? Possibly. And that’s why there is so much riding on this coming weekend’s release of Blomkamp’s 3rd feature, “Chappie”. Starring Dev Patel, Hugh Jackman, Sigourney Weaver, and Mr. Copley as the title character–an experimental robot with artificial intelligence. The trailers have been promising, but so far reviews are mixed. And with Mr. Blomkamp slated to helm the next chapter in the “Alien” franchise, the success of “Chappie” is being closely monitored by many–this critic included.
“Alien 5”, as it’s already being dubbed, by a huge portion of the series many devotees (holding up the original 1979-97 “quadrilogy”, while wisely ignoring the “AVP” double-dip from last decade, as well as the “Prometheus” tease from the current one), has apparently already been given the green light, with Neil Blomkamp in full command. Now, I adore all four of the original “Alien” quartet, each one from a mega-talented, but markedly distinct director (for the record, Ridley Scott, James Cameron, David Fincher and Jean-Pierre Jeunet). Yeah, each and every one is worthwhile, and ignore anyone that says different! And, if you had informed me after the release of “District 9”, That Neil Blomkamp would be taking on this project, my excitement would’ve been palpable. Now, I can only manage being cautiously optimistic. So, there’s a lot riding on you, “Chappie”. Don’t screw the pooch.