With so many predictable action movies around it’s nice to see that some directors are doing weird and wonderful things with the genre.
Chappie, the latest sci-fi adventure from Neill Blomkamp, is certainly different...for better or worse. The film is set in Johannesburg in 2016 where crime rates are low thanks to new police robots called Scouts. These have been created by 20-something genius Deon Wilson for the Tetra Vaal company.
Of course, Deon has far greater ambitions than law enforcement and aims to create fully conscious artificial intelligence.
On his way to test his robot, Deon is captured by criminals who force him to start the android up so they can use it in their heists. However, once the cute robot is given life and the name ‘Chappie’, it begins to learn and develop its own personality.
As expected, with District 9 director Blomkamp at the helm, Chappie boasts incredible special effects with robots that look completely real.
But be warned: this is a very odd movie. It has moments of outlandish comedy and brutal violence, as well as a look that blends colourful cyberpunk with the grittiness of its Joburg setting. The addition of Yolandi Visser and Ninja from South African rap-rave group Die Antwoord also gives the film a bizarre aesthetic. They don’t just bring their own ‘Zef’ style to the party (Google it), they seem to be playing extreme gangster versions of themselves. They’re not brilliant actors but they’re not bad either, and if you’re familiar with the duo’s music (I’m a fan) their presence gives the film a fun, self-referential vibe.
Yes, these elements make it hard to engage with the film’s more serious moments, but Chappie’s experiences are still quite moving. Sharlto Copley does a wonderful job as the voice of the ’bot, conveying childlike curiosity and fear in a way that makes him endearing. It’s impossible not to feel sympathy when poor Chappie gets bullied by a group of thugs.
Robots and rappers aside, the other cast members put in pretty believable performances for such a zany picture. Dev Patel is strong as Deon, bringing a kind of nervous energy to the brilliant young inventor. Hugh Jackman is also good as his sadistic rival Vincent, who wants his own clumsy machines to be the future of law enforcement.
Finally, it’s a shame that Sigourney Weaver is hardly used as Tetra Vaal CEO Michelle Bradley, but hopefully she’ll get a lot more screentime if Blomkamp makes Alien 5.
Film details: Chappie (Cert 15, 120 mins).
Director: Neill Blomkamp.
Starring: Sharlto Copley, Dev Patel, Hugh Jackman, Ninja, Yo-Landi, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Sigourney Weaver.
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