Director: Neill Blomkamp
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Sigourney Weaver, Sharlto Copley, Dev Patel, Ninja and Yo-Landi
Running Time: 120 minutes
Release Date: March 6th
Most likely licking his wounds after the relatively muted response to his attempt at a big budget blockbuster with Elysium, director Neill Blomkamp has returned to what got our attention in the first place; namely Sharlto Copley playing a fish-out-of-water character in a terrifying vision of Johannesburg. This time round, Copley is mo-capping Chappie, one of many security droids that are manufactured by Sigourney Weaver’s privatised military company. When one of her employees (Dev Patel) discovers he has cracked the code for artificial intelligence, she can’t see the profit margin, so he injects the AI into one robot to test it out. Chappie is born, developing at an extremely fast rate, but still basically just a child.
In the midst of this, he is sorta-kidnapped by a criminal duo (played by Ninja and Yo-Landi of South African rap group Die Antwoord, playing characters called Ninja and Yo-Landi, who confusingly spend a lot of the movie listening to music by Die Antwoord), and they try to turn Chappie into a master criminal. And for good measure, Hugh Jackman is lurking about as a competing robot manufacturer, one who has created an ED209-esque hulking beast of a machine, and finds Chappie’s new found self-awareness to be completely ungodly.
Much like Elysium, there is A LOT going on here, but unlike Elysium, thankfully A LOT of it actually works. Despite being a hard-edged violent political sci-fi, Chappie still manages to be very funny in places, thanks mostly down to Copley on a career-best high. Even despite his mostly expressionless robot face, Chappie is an amazingly realised character, from the peerless visual effects to the spot-on performance from Copley who must play Chappie as a 9 year old with superhuman strength but also existentially aware that he has a substantially limited life-span. Not to lay it on too thick, but Copley will make you laugh, will make you cry, and by the end of the movie, you’re going to want a Chappie of your very own.
Elsewhere things aren’t quite as copacetic, and a lot of that comes down to Blomkamp. The casting of Die Antwoord doesn’t entirely pay off, especially in the case of Ninja who comes across as a one-dimensional irritant, while Weaver and Patel aren’t given much to do other than represent a “business woman” and a “computer genius”, respectively. Jackman does slightly better cast against type, but nearly everyone involved is handicapped by some clunky first-draft dialogue.
Maybe Blomkamp would be better served in future by directing someone else’s screenplay, as he’s still out on his own when it comes to putting together a kick-ass action sequence, and when Chappie finally steps up to becoming a full blown shoot ‘em up in the final act, it’s fully evident just what it is that Blomkamp is capable of. Three features in and he’s still an immense talent to watch, but he’s yet to return to the giddy heights of his stunning calling card.