Director: Neil Blomkamp
Cast Headliners: Sharlto Copley, Dev Patel, Hugh Jackman, Ninja, Yolandi, Jose Pablo Cantillo
Original Release Date: March 6th, 2015
One can expect a few things when they go to see a Neil Blomkamp movie. There’s the setting of dusty South Africa (or the equally dry Los Angeles from his lost film). There’s a group of outsiders that the main character gets involved with to take down the big bad government. There’s a hunter looking for this main character. While these tropes occur again each time, his films manage to bring a unique twist and identity to these staple blocks. Chappie is even more unique than his past two, for better or worse.
In a near future Johnnesburg, roboticist Deon (Dev Patel) works with his superiors of Michelle (Sigourney Weaver, who appears very little in the film actually) and security chief Vincent (Hugh Jackman). The city has makes use of a police robot troopers of his invention as gang violence increases to dangerous levels. This brings them into conflict with the gangster trio of Ninja, Yolandi ( of the same name of rap group Die Antwoord, who its inferred are literally playing fictional versions of themselves!) and ‘America’ (Jose Pablo Cantillo).
Events transpire to where the first truly self-intelligent AI robot is created by Deon out of a broken unit, named Chappie (Sharlto Copley). The character of Chappie lives up to the film’s title as he is absolutely the best part of the movie. His motion capture performance, apparently captured by Copley, is excellent and the visuals on him and other robots in the film are incredibly lifelike. His writing is charming. The surprising unique twist of the film is that….. its actually really cute and charming. Chappie is taught love and finer things by Deon/”Creator” and Yolandi/”Mommy”, and he is taught violence by Ninja/”Daddy.” The core plot of his learning from these perspectives and character growth is wonderful, and as his emotions grow so too the audience appreciates him more.
But with this being of course a Blomkamp film, it isn’t entirely “cute.” Some have called this a form of children’s film, because of its halfhearted dialogue and performances from the human protagonist in Deon and the opposing force in Vincent. There is some surprisingly lame dialogue and moments considering the director’s past works. The plot too never throws in anything very surprising. But this earns its R rating despite its simplicity, for there is the expected bloody violence and plentiful slurs as the other films by him. This makes it feel all over the place in emotion, from charming child-robot-raising to intense action heists.
The other primary unique thing of the film, for better or worse, is the involvement of Die Antwoord. Ninja is a surprisingly good actor, giving a zany performance as the gang leader and he has some of the film’s best jokes to aid its comedic slant. Yolandi is a bit less convincing in her role but is alright. One can tell they gave creative input to the visual design of their faction, as they have colorful weapons and armor and obscene graffiti covering their hideout. I know some will have trouble accepting their thick South African accents , and the fact that the movie uses multiple songs of theirs in its soundtrack is up for debate depending on how one likes their music. In a way, this feels like it’s a giant promotion and music video for them and the morality of that is debateable though it adds to the “fun” factor of the movie.
Chappie stands apart since its more of an sci-fi action dramedy than the sci-fi action films of the past. However, the writing and plot isn’t entirely perfect, and one’s potential enjoyment relies nearly entirely on whether they can handle Die Antwoord and their music or not. At least the title star is the best robot protagonist in a long while. 7.7 out of 10