Genre: Sci-Fi / Action
Director: Neill Blomkamp
Cast: Sharlto Copley, Dev Patel, Watkin Tudor Jones, Yolandi Visser, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Hugh Jackman and Sigourney Weaver
Distributor: Sony Pictures
Release date: 6th March 2015
Duration: 120 minutes
In recent years, South African director, Neil Blomkamp, has made a name for himself in the world of sci-fi action thrillers. His 2009 apartheid fable District 9 – an alternative account of class warfare and xenophobia when aliens find themselves abandoned in the slums of Johannesburg – marked one of the boldest feature debuts in recent sci-fi history. Blomkamp’s 2013 follow-up, Elysium – a futuristic tale of the Earth inhabitants of the L.A. slum policed by brutal automatons fight their way into the luxurious space habitat of the wealthy – although engaging, lacked heart and failed to deepen the socio-political script he has long threaded in his works.
Going to the screening of Chappie, I was interested to see what Blomkamp could do next. However, the title threw me a little. Chappie? (Or should I say CHAPPiE?) Really?! It sounds like a family movie about a pet dog. You know… It’s Chappie! Or even – as I logically assumed when I saw the posters online – a kids’ movie about a toy robot. You know… Hey Chappie! The name doesn’t suggest gangsta sci-fi blockbuster.
Regardless of my yet-to-be explained grievances with the film, I left the cinema content, I wondered whether Blomkamp has caught himself in a droid-leaded cyclone of dystopia and discrimination. You see…
Chappie (the titular character) is an android law enforcer, which is re-programmed to learn and feel, soon adapts to its newfound consciousness, but is faced with the inevitable demise that comes to all living beings. Déjà vu? Sure, it’s very easy for me to liken this film to Short Circuit, RoboCop, Bicentennial Man, or iRobot. But can you blame me? (Yes – I wrote this review after all.) Touching on similar themes, such movie comparisons are unsurprisingly inevitable.
Chappie displays some great action from the outset; and a gripping score throughout provided by renowned film composer, Hans Zimmer (The Lion King, The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception, and Interstellar). However, the flaws of the film can’t be overlooked. Starting off with the casting of partners-in-rhyme, Watkin Tudor Jones (a.k.a. Ninja) and Yo-Landi Visser of zef-rap group, Die Antwoord.
In keeping with their image, Ninja and Yo-Landi play fictionalised versions of themselves as low-life gangstas. But their presence in the film seems quite forced at times – seeing them wear Die Antwoord’s t-shirts and listening to their own music, which acts as the film’s soundtrack. Needless to say, their roles as hustlers who act as Chappie’s surrogate parents are central, not only to the events that unfold, but to the characterisation of Chappie too.
Which leads to the main character. GGI has come a long way in such a short space of time. The motion-capture of Chappie (played by Sharlto Copley) is photo-realistic. In turn, Copley captures Chappie’s childlike essence in cute moments, such as its nervousness when trying to shoot for the first time. Although the character’s naivety grates at times.
Lack of character development and depth is one of the key downfalls of Blomkamp’s script (co-written by his writing partner and wife, Terri Tatchell). For instance, robot developer, Deon, is without a doubt passionate – in which Dev Patel brings a natural likeability to the character. But the audience never gets a sense of why he’s trying to unlock the key to consciousness in robots.
Likewise, Vincent (played by Hugh Jackman) remains mullet-sporting military engineer with nothing more to do than hunt down and destroy Chappie. It’s all rooted in jealousy of Deon’s success and his lack of project funding, but all-in-all Vincent is rather cartoonish. And Michelle (played by Sigourney Weaver). Well, she’s one of those company executives that doesn’t do anything, but tells everyone else to keep up the good work.
It sounds all bad, but it really isn’t. Chappie offers a lot of action; great CGI effects, a deadly score; a promising socio-political premise; as well as funny moments throughout. I However, Blomkamp needs stop going around in cyclonic circles and push the sci-fi envelope further – starting with his next project, Alien 5. Chappie has a lot of titanium, but ultimately falls apart at its hinges.
This article originally featured on Chunk.ie.