CHAPPiE is Surprisingly Endearing for an Action Sci-Fi
Directed by: Neill Blomkamp
Written by: Neill Blomkamp, Terri Tatchell
Based on: Tetra Vaal by Neill Blomkamp
Starring: Sharlto Copley, Dev Patel, Watkin Tudor (Ninja)Jones, Yolandi Visser, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Sigourney Weaver, Hugh Jackman
Running time: 120 minutes
Rated R for violence, language and brief nudity
CHAPPiE, a film I have been anticipating for some time now, is going to make me say something about a Neil Blomkamp film I never thought I would say, “That was cute.” It was also very cool, endearing, exciting, and downright entertaining. Perfect? No, perfection doesn’t exist in film; regardless of how many times films or elements may be called perfect. That said, CHAPPiE knocked it out of the park in places, and stumbled in a few. I feel this film actually shows Blomkamp growing as a filmmaker. Many of the missteps he took with Elysium he did not repeat here. He presented a coherent story that develops in a very logical and organic way. The social commentary – and it could be argued there was little to no social commentary – was subtle and while present, it was not tattooed on anyone’s face. The outrageous violence present in District 9 and Elysium is toned down to the point where it is, comparatively, non-existent. This gives us a film that feels appropriately alive, and will resonate with a receptive audience, for those less receptive they will see an exciting, engaging, and amusingly entertaining film.
Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) is a brilliant robotic engineer that has designed a highly effective android police force with a simple, yet highly advanced artificial intelligence. This police force has effectively reduced the crime in Johannesburg, causing rival engineer, Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman) to lose funding for his pet project, the highly militarized MOOSE drone. In Deon’s spare time, he has desperately been trying to crack the secret to a true artificial intelligence, and he has just found the right combination to begin testing. However, his boss, Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver), has refused his request to install this new firmware on a critically damaged robot, in desperation he steals the robot to conduct his experiments at home. On his way home he is kidnapped by Ninja (Ninja) and Yolandi (Yolandi Vasser), desperate gangsters that think Deon can give them a key to remotely disable the ruthless robotic police. When they learn he can’t do what they are asking, to save his own life he offers them their own robot that they can teach to do whatever they want. Once online, this new robot, essentially a child, is adopted by Yolandi, and named Chappie. Chappie (Sharlto Copley) begins to grow, and learn at an amazing pace. Ninja tries to teach him to be a gangster, while Deon makes Chappie promise not to commit any crimes, forcing Chappie to make difficult decisions, while trying to discover who, or what he is.
I do feel obligated to say, this is very much a Neil Blomkamp film, and the vast majority of this cast is South African, with thick Afrikaas accents. This fact alone may turn many off, or at least cause some to wait for this to be available at home when you can have subtitles. Personally, I didn’t have any trouble with the accents, and had no issue following the dialogue. One other point that may turn off audiences is the outrageous nature of Ninja and Yolandi, notorious South African rap-rave group Die Antword. Their influence, as is South African Zef culture, on the style and art of the film is tangible; I know this may turn some away but it shouldn’t, it is a great organic production design.
I can’t wrap this up without talking about Sharlto Copley’s voice and motion capture performance. He brought Chappie to life in a way I didn’t believe possible. I also never thought I would say this, but Sharlto Copley made this character absolutely adorable. This I believe makes CHAPPiE a film very much worth viewing and experiencing.