Chappie Review

I’m consciousness. I’m alive. I’m Chappie.

Following the fantastic District 9 and the not-so-fantastic Elysuim, Neil Blomkamp takes us a third time to a bleak futuristic Johannesburg with his new film Chappie. Think part Short Circuit and part Robocop and you’ll have a pretty good idea what Chappie’s about.

In the near future crime in Johannesburg (and possibly the rest of the world, it doesn’t expand on that) has reached a point where law enforcement can’t the peace. Which is where the Tetra Vaal corporation steps in. The police now use a small army of robots called Scouts to combat crime. The Scouts were designed by Deon Wilson, played by Dev Patel, who has been working on creating a fully self aware AI. Tetra Vaal CEO Michell Bradley, Sigourney Weaver (who didn’t get enough screentime in my opinion), shoots down his ideas. So he decides to take matters into his own hands. Through an unfortunate circumstance Chappie, played by Blomkamp regular Sharlto Copley, is “born” and left with a small group of gangsters, lead by Ninja and Yolandi, rave rap duo Die Antwoord pretty much just playing themselves (acting really isn’t their thing, I’ll just leave it at that). Thus the plot starts to unfold, what starts out as a gangsters heist plan soon gives way to questions of consciousness and what it s to be truly alive.

Chappie jump

The visual effects were very impressive I couldn’t see where CG ended and physical props began, with Chappie in particular, he is definitely the star here and reason enough to watch the film. Copley takes Chappie from being an infant to adult. It is often times very funny and sometimes touching watching Chappie innocently watch and question why the world is the way it is.

On the one side Chappie has Deon, as his creator, trying to teach him the difference between right and wrong. On the other he has his “family”, Ninja and Yolandi, teaching him about how the world really works. Yolandi forms a bond with Chappie almost instantly, it’s entertaining to watch as this mother and child relationship develops alongside Chappie’s development. Ninja on the other hand starts by seeing Chappie as a tool, a way to pull off the heist he and his crew have been planning. I found it a little jarring watching as Ninja goes from one scene, having no feelings toward Chappie, to the next where he has developed a father-like bond with him. There was no gradual development or any real reason why he should have this change of heart other than the plot him to feel that way to move on.

The villain comes in the guise of Vincent Moore, Hugh Jackman, Deon’s rival at Tetra Vaal. Vincent has created the Moose, a walking tank reminiscent of Robocop’s ed209. His ideas keep getting turned away while Deon keeps getting all the recognition for his Scouts. At first this makes you feel a little sympathetic toward Vincent. He’s just as smart as Deon and he brings up some good points about the Scouts not being under human control like the moose would be. Problems start once Vincent decides to take matters into his on hands, he suddenly starts losing any semblance of character he had at the start of the film. He actually reaches a point of cartoonish villainy where he starts to laugh manically and exclaim his dastardly plans to an empty room. Hitting all the mad genius clichés like they are going out of style.

Moose and ed

Moose and Ed209, they could be brothers!

Much like District 9 the film opens with several news spots and talking heads telling us of the importance of Chappie and what he means for the development of the human race. Unlike District 9 we don’t see any of these claims come to light. Now it could be that there are more films planned to answer these questions, but we don’t even get a sense of where things are going to go form here, so the film feels a little incomplete in that regard. There’s not much backstory explaining how the world got to this point and it doesn’t desperately need it, but it would have been nice to know a little more about the state of the world.

For me it would have been interesting to see a little more of the corporate machine at work with Tetra Vaal, but we’re only really shown the surface of the company. There is no hidden agenda, no dark secret behind the Scouts or the Moose, in fact the company would almost fade into the background if it wasn’t for all the Tetra Vaal logos adorning almost everything.

Something I feel that would have made for an interesting point, would be perhaps to look at how the corporate machine starts to dehumanise Deon and at the same time show how Chappie’s AI is breathing more humanity into him. Instead we get the start of something interesting involving consciousness and the human soul, but alas these points fall by the wayside to make room for, admittedly impressive looking, run and gun action set pieces and never get examined.


Those robots from Elysium look awfully familiar…

I would have liked to see a shared universe forming with Blomkamp’s work, since Chappie shows the Johannesburg slums and suburbs in a similar light to District 9 and the look of the Scouts resembles the droids in Elysium. But there are no overt connections to be made here.

I don’t think Chappie is a bad film but it’s certainly not a great film it just occupies that space in-between. Perhaps if it had been Blomkamp’s first film I would have seen it in a different light. Chappie is built on great and grand ideas but never follows through on them leaving the film a little soulless. There is a trend forming with Blomkamp’s films at the moment starting incredibly strong with District 9 and then through Elysium and now Chappie becoming increasingly less original, intriguing and resonant. A trend I hope does not continue especially with the announcement that his next project is to write and direct the next Alien film.

***SUNDAY CALENDAR STORY FOR JANUARY 11, 2014. DO NOT USE PRIOR TO PUBLICATION**********Chappie (Sharlto Copley) from Columbia Pictures' action-adventure movie CHAPPIE.

Genre: Action / Science Fiction / Crime / Thriller

Age Rating: 15

Runtime: 120 Mins

Film Distributor: Columbia Pictures

So what do you think? Have a think and let us know in the comments section below.

– Dan P



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