UK Release Date: 6th March 2015
Runtime: 120 minutes
Director: Neill Blomkamp
Writer: Neill Blomkamp, Terri Tatchell
Starring: Sharlto Copley, Dev Patel, Hugh Jackman, Ninja, Yo-Landi Visser, Sigourney Weaver, Jose Pablo Cantillo
Synopsis: An advanced artificial intelligence, capable of emotion, falls into the hands of a gang of crooks who want to exploit his power for criminal gain.
Neill Blomkamp is a director who comes in for far more criticism than he deserves. When his low-budget debut District 9 took the world by storm, he was immediately pegged as the next big genre filmmaker. This buzz cooled when Elysium was met with an unduly harsh critical reception and it has further taken a hit with the release of Chappie – a film that is being seriously misunderstood.
In near-future Johannesburg, the police force is run by robots designed by Deon (Dev Patel) for weapons manufacturer Michelle (Sigourney Weaver). Rival engineer Vincent (Hugh Jackman), meanwhile, pushes his own, more aggressive, project. When one of these robots is taken out of service, Deon takes the opportunity to experiment with sentience. The result, Chappie (Sharlto Copley), is stolen by Ninja (Ninja) and Yolandi (Yo-Landi Visser) who train him to commit crimes.
Chappie lives and dies on the success of its central character. Thankfully, Sharlto Copley’s robot is a sympathetic and believable creation, capable of inspiring genuine emotions from the audience. He is adorably childlike and sympathetic, particularly in a brutal scene in which he is beaten and damaged by a gang of youths, despite his pleas for mercy. Copley’s vocal performance is delightful and the star is becoming a real lucky charm for Blomkamp.
| "He’s the key to the revolution. A machine that can feel and think. He can outsmart the enemy and free us all."
Whilst Chappie isn’t as obviously ideas-heavy as District 9, it has plenty to say about the nature of humanity. At times, it seems that Chappie, despite being a robot, is far more compassionate and humane than the flesh and blood people he encounters. His bewilderment and innocence at the world throws the darkness of man into sharp focus, particularly in the case of Hugh Jackman’s deliciously evil antagonist.
Alongside the central robot are the relatively unproven acting talents of the unorthodox hip-hop duo Die Antwoord. It’s true that they aren’t the best actors on the planet, but they add a wonderfully off-kilter feel to Blomkamp’s future world and really convince in their interactions with Chappie – who was performed live on set by Copley in a performance capture suit.
Chappie really kicks up a gear as it moves into its third act. The shocking brutality of the final confrontation recalls the films of Paul Verhoeven – especially Robocop, which is a clear influence on the film and Blomkamp’s work in general. The film also deserves praise for the risks it takes in the final moments, which have divided critics, but make complete sense in the course of a narrative that is all about consciousness and what it truly means to be sentient.
| "People are always fearful of something they don’t understand."
Unfairly kicked around by critics, Chappie is yet another stellar release from Neill Blomkamp – a filmmaker willing to take risks and push genre. Blomkamp is this generation’s Verhoeven and Chappie continues to establish his unique cinematic voice.
Pop or Poop?
Powered by Sharlto Copley’s sympathetic mo-cap turn and some seamless, unobtrusive special effects, Chappie is another interesting film from Neill Blomkamp, who returns to the low-key aesthetic of his debut, District 9.
Dev Patel and Hugh Jackman provide ample human support, whilst rap group Die Antwoord give the whole thing an off-kilter feel.
But it’s the beating emotional heart of Chappie that sticks with you after the credits roll. Blomkamp is like Verhoeven with a heart.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.