There are always those artists, for better or for worse, that we recognize at a moment's notice; like a Radiohead song that gives its maker away in the first four chords or a string of dialogue that could only have been written by Quentin Tarantino himself. This maxim seems more and more evident with every installment in Neill Blomkamp's filmography.
Every element, from costume to tone, is fast becoming unofficially trademarked by the South African director. When he broke out in 2009 with "District 9," I assumed I was watching a one-of-a-kind film, and that Blomkamp would quickly move on to other genres and stories; this clearly has not been the case. It seems that he has been given creative freedom to continually pursue his obsession with crime-riddled near-futures and dystopian South Africa's. But after reading the poor reviews for his latest film, "Chappie," the story of a sentient robot turned gangster, and then seeing it for myself, I'm not sure how much longer Blomkamp will be able to make these types of films seemingly all by himself.
"Chappie" wasn't a terrible film by any means, but it certainly wasn't a rebound from his previous outing, "Elysium," which faired poorly at the domestic box office yet had a superior critical reception. (In fact, don't be surprised if "Chappie" loses more on the back end, even though it cost a fraction of the former to make.) Even though "District 9" had the looks of something that wouldn't be repeated, it seems that is exactly what Blomkamp has tried to do twice now -- failing both times.
Passion projects are a gem in Hollywood. Most directors go their whole careers without one, some are lucky to make two, and others are blessed with whole strings of them, even if they repeatedly fail. Sometimes all it takes is one blockbuster and you are given the keys to the kingdom. But whereas most will move on to bigger and better ideas, Blomkamp has hindered himself by making inferior versions of his original masterpiece.
I truly want to root for him. I love sci-fi. I love robots. And I love aliens. Maybe that formula can be successful time and time again. Perhaps Blomkamp is simply going about it in the wrong way. Tarantino basically gives us the same thing in every film. "Inglorious Bastards" and "Django Unchained" could only have been done by the same person, and even someone who has only seen those two movies as long as he's lived could probably guess that. Tarantino's formula works because he varies it so much. It's the same type of dialogue and pop culture-infused with violence, but it's also always new and refreshing.
Blomkamp continually gives us the same types of characters and the same types of social issues, but he doesn't alter it enough from film to film. I don't despise "Eylsium" or "Chappie," and I earnestly believe that Blomkamp has what it takes. He just needs to bring more to the plate next time -- if there is a next time.
Jack Heyden is a sophomore at the University of Illinois and a contributor to Moviefone's Campus Beat. Are you a current college student with a love for all things movies and TV? Contribute to Campus Beat!