Chappie: Film Review
Cast: Sharlto Copley, Dev Patel, Hugh Jackman, Sigourney Weaver, Watkin Tudor Jones, Yolandi Visser, Jose Pablo Contillo
Director: Neill Blomkamp
(Chappie's the extended version of Blomkamp's own 80 second short film from 2003, which you can view below)
In Chappie, it's the not too distant future and Jo'burg police are losing the fight against crime. Thankfully, an armed force of robots (designed by Dev Patel's local tech boffin Deon) is helping bring down the scourge from the streets.
But Deon's simultaneously working on an Artifical Intelligence programme to help evolve the cyber cops to the next level. When one of the robots is slated for decommissioning and against the word of CEO Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver, who barely features) Deon takes the robot for his own scientific plans.
However, when Deon's kidnapped by a group of thugs (South African rappers Die Antwoord Ninja and Yolandi), the AI's injected into the robot who becomes a mild and meek child-like creation called Chappie - and the lynchpin in a battle between good and evil / nature and nurture begins.
Chappie is not the film perhaps you'd been expecting from the visionary director of Elysium and District 9 Neill Blomkamp.
Which is, in this case, a good thing.
Mixing in his trademark documentary opening style, with some incredible mo-cap work from Sharlto Copley and the CGI wizards at WETA, the robot (as in Johnny Five's Short Circuit) is the centre of the emotional core of a film that juggles some all out guns-blazing Robocop style violence, Terminator musical stylings and some utterly loopy logic that forgoes any kind of sense in favour of a lunatic riff on Transcendence (ironic for a film that's about a robot and AI).
It's Copley's film by half with his overly eager, child-like and catchphrase quotable droid ("Chappie wants his book") providing the laughs -and heart - in what could only be described as a cartoon-like riff on parenting and growing up in the visually appealing ghettos of South Africa.
Inevitably, the tropes of the genre are all infused into this occasionally day-glo pulpy styled film - will the robot follow the creator's ethos or those who raise him just being one of the sci-fi cliches that's rolled out in a fairly simplistic story, that defies logic and belief as the end rolls around. (Complete with character choices and actions which seem out of place from all that's gone on)
Hugh Jackman growls and scowls as the khaki-shorted, mulleted frustrated and sidelined former soldier who advocates more for a shoot them all philosophy from his droids but does little else, Dev Patel brings a degree of warmth as the Frankenstein creator who wants to teach Chappie to paint and read rather than become a gun-toting, chain-wearing, mother-funking gangsta and Sigourney Weaver barely warms the screen as the number-crunching bottom line espousing CEO.
It's perhaps the rappers who offer the weakest one-note performance with Ninja's self-named gangster appearing to think he's in Grand Theft Auto the cinema version and who borders on R-rated parody as he shoots everything around him. Yolandi gives it a little more heart as the mother but ultimately ends up a little too bland to stand out despite the day-glo clothes and coloured weapons they all tout.
In among the action sequences, Blomkamp's eye for detail and co-ordinated chaos comes to the fore again; but it's just a shame that Chappie's intelligent ideas are thrown out of the window in favour of typical action blockbuster fare - the philosophies of nature/nurture are ditched to make way for an R rated fish out of water comedy that humanises the robot and demonises a large percentage of the human population.
Granted, Chappie is, to be fair, a little scrappy.
However, it's also a truly disposable piece of bubblegum blockbuster whose simplistic story, occasional robotic cuteness and execution subverts some of the sci-fi norm and audience expectations, but which wears its disarming heart and humour on its robotic arm.