Thanks to Sony Pictures Australia we had the chance to see Neill Blomkamp’s new sci-fi adventure Chappie before its Australian cinematic release. This is our review of the film, but – as usual – no matter what we say, we recommend that you still go to your local cinema and see the film because there is no better critic than yourself.
Set in a futuristic South Africa, in which a police robot force is in place, saving the lives of many human cops, the film follows a damaged robot unit whose creator, Deon (Dev Patel), decides to rescue it from being crushed in order to test his recent discovery on it. Deon thinks he’s hit upon the capability of giving the robots real human artificial intelligence, making them conscious and capable of making their own decisions.
Not all goes according to plan, however. A group of punks (played by Jose Pablo Cantillo and singers Ninja and Yo-Landi Visser from the South African rap-rave group Die Antwoord) decide to kidnap Deon in order to find a way to switch off all the mechanic patrols, allowing them to make a big hit. What they don’t suspect is that the obsessive scientist carrying the damaged unit means to use his kidnapping as a way of testing his new discovery. Deon gives the robot bound for destruction (renamed Chappie and played by Sharlto Copley) consciousness, thus allowing him to learn and make his mind up on certain matters, like a real child in development.
To further complicate matters, Vincent (Hugh Jackman), Deon’s co-worker and competitor, has his own version of a police unit, “The Moose,” which is losing funds and credibility, making him extremely frustrated and capable of doing anything to realise his dream, even if that means taking Deon and the full mechanical police force down.
Expectations were high when visionary director, Neill Blomkamp announced that he was again teaming up with actor Sharlto Copley for Chappie. Artworks and trailers were released that amazed audiences, making everyone feel like they were witnessing what was potentially Blomkamp’s own hardcore version of “I, Robot”, with touches of anime hit, “Appleseed”. Unfortunately, those trailers were far from what the final product delivered, as Chappie is neither an action film nor a deep sci-fi story.
The film is more of a futuristic drama with elements from Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Robocop, Short Circuit and Pinoccio, something that could have been a fantastic surprise. However, the poorly selected cast criteria and character development dispenses with any good elements, leaving viewers with mixed feelings at the end of the film, with many wondering if they liked it or not.
Chappie’s biggest letdowns were those who were surprisingly cast as the film’s lead (human) characters. You’ll be surprised to find that Hugh Jackman and Dev Patel play far from relevant parts, with Ninja and Yo-Landi Visser (who even keep their artistic names to pretty much play themselves) enjoying most of the screen time as Chappie’s evil surrogate parents. Yo-Landi Visser is very annoying as the delinquent but caring maternal female figure, while Ninja plays the horrible parent of the child-robot who only wants to use him to make some huge robberies. Put plainly, the pair simply can’t act and they have the most annoying “bogan-style” (known as “Zef” in South Africa) voices that make them more suitable for a Housos vs Authority film than for a huge sci-fi blockbuster like this one….Mr. Blomkamp, seriously, we love your work, but what on Earth were you thinking!
Add to all this the extremely irrelevant role of Academy Award nominee, Hugh Jackman, who is even forced to deliver top Australian slang during the film, making his “evil” character a very silly one. What a waste of talent! Moreover, the “almighty” creator of the robots (played by Dev Patel), capable of giving Chappie consciousness, is more like a geek in distress, who is constantly praised by his boss (Sigouney Weaver) and bullied by Jackman’s character, a subplot that is also underdeveloped.
All these factors work against the film’s interesting final twist, making the big climax arrive too late, and failing to generate the classic impact that Blomkamp movies have.
On a positive note, every single scene involving Chappie is impeccable, as the robot is simply adorable, and you can clearly see so much of Sharlto Copley’s own personality in it ( the way the robot moves and of course his voice) making this a solid motion caption performance by Copley that would make Andy Serkis proud.
The art for the film and the special effects are mind-blowing; Chappie looks so real that you sometimes forget that you are in front of a computer-generated character and not a puppet. In addition, the comedy is well-conceived, especially the sequences involving Chappie’s struggle to learn how be human, and act like a true gangster to make his parents proud. Furthermore, the few action sequences are spectacular and even crude, with a huge quota of realism that we wish we could have seen on the Robocop remake.
Ultimately, and despite all its ups and downs, Chappie still manages to be an entertaining film, with a very likeable lead mechanic character. Yet, the film will probably be remembered as Neill Blomkamp’s weakest movie to date, something that hopefully won’t affect the production of his upcoming Alien film alongside Ridley Scott.
Chappie opens in cinemas on 12 March 2015