After the soft reception his sophomoric effort Elysium received Neill Blomkamp needed to return to the dizzying heights he gained with District 9. Going back to the slums of a South African city he gives us another story of a cog who comes loose from the governing system to fight the power. This time instead of Wikus Van De Merwe we have Chappie.
As crime reaches critical figures in South Africa a robot police force is created to oversee crime fighting duties. Dev Patel plays their creator Deon Wilson who works alongside Hugh Jackman’s bitter Vincent Moore, an ex-military man who has his own robot fighting machine called Moose. Moose by the way looks nothing at all like ED-209 from RoboCop (it does). The company is overseen by a very angry Sigourney Weaver who I imagine is playing herself. Die Antwoord rob something and the resulting chase concludes with them getting their hands on one of the robot police force. After a quick kidnapping of Deon he resets the robot back to factory settings but now with artificial intelligence and thus Chappie is born.
Now we’ve got the set-up out the way we can get down to business. There is a fundamental flaw that will probably prevent anyone from thinking Chappie is a true masterpiece and it’s the fact that it invokes the memory of RoboCop and Short Circuits 1 & 2 all too frequently. Which is a shame because Chappie is much finer film than most critics would have you believe.
What is also odd is that the films promotion mentions next to nothing about Die Antwoord’s Ninja and Yo-Landi who appear to be playing themselves in a sci-fi film setting. It’s their relationship with Chappie that forms the bulk of the films story. Essentially born anew with a child’s brain Chappie is looked after by the two criminals, along with Jose Pablo Cantillo’s Amerika. Through a mixture of Ninja’s tough love and Yo-Landi’s nurturing the young robot develops from toddler to gun toting action hero within a week. It’s also these scenes which are the dramatic gut-punch of the film. Frankly some of the scenes of a scared robot being made to stand up for itself are heartbreaking. Sharlto Copley who reteams with his director for a third time puts in a masterful motion-capture performance. But it also these scenes that may give you Nam-like flashbacks to Short Circuit 2.
Blomkamp also knows how to direct an action set piece like the back of his hand. Still making use of a documentary style lens the action is sharply cut with the occasional jolt of slow-mo thrown in that on this occasion does genuinely heighten the suspense rather than simply trying to look cool. The cast all round are very good. Dev Patel puts in arguably his best cinematic performance to date and the usually affable Jackman makes for a sinister villain. Where the film does fall down though is its plotting. There are giant holes of where plot or indeed any explanation at all should be. Massive plot points are simply explained away with Patel’s character saying things like:
“oh I invented something that can do that”,
“really Mr. Patel? How does it work?”,
“it would only bore you and the rest of the audience to explain just trust me on this”,
“okay, are you sure? Because what you’re doing seems like it could really be opening up a whole new subplot that would bring about questions of human identity, the notion of self and when you get down to it the body horror implications…”
“I said drop it lame-o”
It seems in the interests of brevity and to allow more explosions to happen that we are meant to go along with the story unquestioned. This coupled with the RoboCop/Short Circuit issue (apparently the robot units are voiced by Peter Weller’s RoboCop) is what prevents Chappie from sci-fi classic status. Which is frustrating because the elements are there. The central figure of Chappie is a lovable and highly sympathetic creation. The effects which render him into the real world are world class. Die Antwoord are also unexpected delights. Bringing the same intensity they do to their music they also bring unpredictability and an oddness which is refreshing in big budget movie making. Fantastic action, tear-inducing drama and a surprising level of laughs. I so want it to be a new favourite but those pesky plot holes make for a bumpy ride.
Dir: Neill Blomkamp
Scr: Neill Blomkamp, Terri Tatchell
Starring: Sharlto Copley, Ninja, Yo-Landi Visser, Dev Patel, Hugh Jackman, Sigourney Weaver
Prd: Neill Blomkamp, Simon Kinberg
DOP: Trent Opaloch
Music: Hans Zimmer
Run time: 120 mins
- Alternate Ending
- Extended Scene: “A Very Bad Man”
- Eight Featurettes:
- “Chappie: The Streetwise Professor” – An inside look at Chappie and casting Copley to play the robot and his performance via motion capture.
- “Arms Race: The Weapons and Robots” – Get a deeper look at the real-world firepower tech and the design of the “Scout” robots & “Moose.”
- “Bringing Chappie to Life: The Visual Effects” – The film’s VFX artists discuss the pre-production design process.
- “From Tetra Vaal to Chappie” – An in-depth exploration of the scriptwriting process, the early concept design work and other aspects of pre-production.
- “Keep It Gangster” – A behind-the-scenes look at the process of creating an authentic South African gangster world featuring interviews with NINJA and ¥O-LANDI VI$$ER.
- “The Reality of Robotics” – Discover present day robotics capabilities and next generation artificial intelligence, featuring an interview with Robotics Professor Wolfgang Fink.
- “Jozi: Real City and a Sci-Fi Setting” – Discover the history of the real world locations in the film and the role these settings played in the fictionalized version of Johannesburg.
- “Rogue Robot: Deconstructing the Stunts & Special Effects” – A look at the film’s high-action stunt sequences.
- “The Art of Chappie” Photo Gallery
- Crime Spree: Scene Deconstruction – A multi-part scene breakdown detailing all of the preparation and on-set chaos choreographed to film the illegal action within Chappie, including director’s insights, stunt coordination, cinematography and special effects work.
Chappie is available on Digital and Blu-Ray now and DVD from 13 July via Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.