GENRE: Action, Sci-Fi, Comedy, Thriller
DIRECTOR: Neill Blomkamp
WRITER: Neill Blomkamp, Terri Tatchell
STARS: Sharlto Copley, Dev Patel, Hugh Jackman, Yo-Landi Visser, Ninja, Sigourney Weaver
COUNTRY: USA (filmed in South Africa and Canada)
PLOT: In the near future, crime is patrolled by a mechanised police force. When one police droid, Chappie, is stolen and given new programming, he becomes the first robot with the ability to think and feel for himself.
With echoes of Short Circuit 2, Robocop and maybe even Raising Arizona, Neill Blomkamp has taken some classic inspiration for his coming-of-age-comedy-crime-sci-fi-thriller.
Blomkamp’s use of Johannesburg slums as the backdrop to his near-future sci-fi tales is genius as he draws on the juxtapositions of hi-tech and low education, incredible wealth and ghetto life, soaring crime and zero tolerance policing. Chappie follows perfectly the mould that Blomkamp has created for himself and therefore fits comfortably alongside his other hits Distict 9 and Elysium.
The superb Sharlto Copley is the man tasked with bringing to life the tale of a stolen sentient police robot who has the mind of a child but the power of a tank, through motion capture and voice work. This kind of role has been cornered in recent years by Andy Serkis, but Copley proves that he is at least a match as he delivers an innocence and excitement to Chappie that is infectious and often hilarious.
The other masterstroke was to cast the South African rap duo Die Antwoord as the lead human characters. The band are followers of Zef culture, which celebrates being poor with style (Die Antwoord describe it as “people who soup their cars up and rock gold and shit. Zef is, you’re poor but you’re fancy. You’re poor but you’re sexy, you’ve got style”). Zef is perfect styling for the film and Band members Yo-landi and Ninja play Chappie’s kidnappers/parents in such an assured way that suggests their rap personas have just been the rehearsals for their big break in film.
Other performances are hit and miss. Hugh Jackman plays a great part as the god fearing, AI hating rival, Sigourney Weaver is a little lost in the film with a very slight part that doesn’t allow her to show he talent, but Dev Patel is my biggest concern. He doesn’t have the presence for big movies and his stereotypical role as an Indian computer genius seems to compound the similarities to Short Circuit 2 in a negative way.
But the biggest issue with the film is the screenplay. For example, we are supposed to accept that Jackman is a devout Christian who cannot accept AI as it is not God’s way. But when he inevitably turns bad we are expected to accept that he will happily tear a human body in half, laughing as he goes. We are also expected to believe that a helmet made to read human brain waves will work out of the box on a robot head too! After their wonderful script for District 9 I was hoping for more from Blomkamp and Tatchell, this dumbing down of the tale maybe a tactic to widen it’s appeal, however for me it stops it from being a classic genre film.
I really enjoyed Chappie and would wholeheartedly recommend it, but I can’t help also feeling slightly let down.
Everything that is right about the film comes from the excellent direction and fantastic performances (especially from Sharlto Copley). Everything that is wrong comes from a script that feels rushed and has too many holes. The best AI film for a very long time, but falls just short of what I had hope for.
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