Synopsis: Every child comes into the world full of promise, and none more so than Chappie: he is gifted, special, a prodigy. Like any child, Chappie will come under the influence of his surroundings — some good, some bad — and he will rely on his heart and soul to find his way in the world and become his own man. But there’s one thing that makes Chappie different from anyone else: he is a robot. The first robot with the ability to think and feel for himself. His life, his story, will change the way the world looks at robots and humans forever.
Release Date: March 6, 2015 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Science Fiction, Fantasy
Director Neill Blomkamp and actor Sharlto Copley must have a weird working relationship. In District 9, Blomkamp basically turned Copley into an alien. In Elysium, Blomkamp fitted Copley with a weaponized robotic skeleton contraption. In Chappie, Blomkamp goes the whole nine yards and just makes Copley’s character a robot.
Chappie is set in the not-too-distant future year of 2016 when police forces have taken to using robot drones to fight crime. The designer of the police robots, a genius engineer named Deon Wilson (Dev Patel from Slumdog Millionaire), keeps perfecting his creations until he finally figures out a way to make them sentient – his new program will cause the robots to be able to think and learn rather than just obey orders. He finds a damaged robot into which he can install his experimental robot consciousness, but is attacked by a gang of criminals who steal the android so that they can use it to commit crimes. When the new intelligence is installed, the robot becomes like a newborn baby, soaking up and learning from his environment. The gang (portrayed by South African rap/rave group Die Antwoord, aka Ninja and Yolandi) teaches the robot, who they have christened Chappie (Copley), to rob, loot, and steal, but they also form a parental bond with the machine. Deon just wants to get Chappie back from the criminals, but they obviously don’t want to give him up, and Deon gets resistance from within his own company as well in the form of a jealous engineer named Vincent Moore (Real Steel‘s Hugh Jackman) who is out to sabotage Deon’s work.
For the first twenty minutes or so, Chappie is amazing. It takes place in the same cinematic universe as District 9 and Elysium, but doesn’t rely on (or even mention) those films in its mythology. The screenplay, written by Blomkamp and his wife/writing partner Terri Tatchell, sets up the movie brilliantly, letting the audience see the robot cops in action and establishing a world in which the viewer can believe. Then, about halfway through the movie, Chappie turns a corner and goes from RoboCop to Short Circuit. What appears to be an attempt to inject humor into the film ends up just sucking all of the excitement out of it. And it just goes downhill from there, getting stupider and stupider as the film wears on.
There’s a real lack of focus in Chappie, almost as if it doesn’t know whether it wants to be an action flick or a comedy, so it doesn’t do either very well. The film is made even more muddled by the absence of a true antagonist – the main villain role shifts from person to person throughout the course of the story until the only character that the audience feels that they can trust is Chappie himself – and he’s only doing what the others are manipulating him into doing. It feels like Blomkamp is trying to do something different for him, and it doesn’t work; maybe Chappie is not quite different enough.
Neill Blomkamp usually injects a political agenda into his movies, and there is a thin one in Chappie, but it’s essentially a wasted opportunity to make a bold statement about the militarization of the police force. In this climate of trigger-happy, grenade-throwing, assault-rifle-wielding so-called “peace” officers, Blomkamp could have really played with some meaningful allegory. However, this ball is dropped, and Chappie just ends up a disposable science fiction farce.
As silly and convoluted as the story to Chappie may be, the visual effects are first rate. The robots are all computer generated, and the detail is astounding – one can even see the dirt collapse beneath the digital feet when the machines walk. Copley does some pretty impressive motion capture work to bring Chappie to life, nailing the body movements of the child-trapped-in-a-robot body that is created when Deon installs the sentient firmware. There’s another police robot, the bigger, badder Moose, which is a less humanoid design, and the scenes where Chappie and Moose duke it out are the most exciting segments in the film, the two of them throwing people and objects around like toys. Blomkamp does pull a few of the tired, slo-mo The Matrix-style shots that suck the wind out of the sails for a few moments, but the fighting robots pick up the pace pretty quickly. If there’s a good reason to see Chappie, it’s Chappie himself – and, thankfully of course, he’s onscreen a lot.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Neill Blomkamp
- Screenwriter(s): Neill BlomkampTerri Tatchell
- Cast: Sharito Copley (Chappie)Dev Patel (Deon Wilson)Hugh Jackman (Vincent Moore) Sigourney Weaver (Michelle Bradley)Brandon Auret (Hippo)
- Editor(s): Julian Clarke
- Cinematographer: Trent Opaloch
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score: Hans Zimmer
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA