Most science fiction movies seek to awe and amaze with pretty visuals and computer graphics all over. Chappie does all that… and takes one step further. It makes you feel and laugh with the robot, known as Chappie, like how you would with a human character. In his third feature film, South African director Neill Blomkamp promises another world of groundbreaking technology as well as plenty of gunfire.
Sharlto Copley voices the titular character Chappie, a robot with unique artificial intelligence (AI) that thinks, speaks, and learns faster than the average human being. Brought into the world by engineer Deon (Dev Patel), the brainchild of a pet project he developed independently proves to be a working success. The only stumbling block in Deon’s way: he doesn’t have the approval of Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver), CEO of the weapons manufacturer Tetravaal he works at, to mass-produce Chappie.
Hugh Jackman plays Vincent, Deon’s fellow colleague whose prototype faces repeated rejection by Michelle for its untested merits. As Deon is lauded for his achievements on the working semi-A.I robots out in field, Vincent becomes increasingly jealous and plans to sabotage his new Chappie project. As the menacing antagonist, Jackman displays an utterly convincing portrayal of a competitor who won’t be put down.
As fate would have it, things go awry when Deon’s attempts to polish Chappie are foiled by a group of gangsters – Ninja, Yolandi and Yankie – who kidnap him and force him to make Chappie an accomplice in a planned heist. It is with the trio that much of the film’s duration is spent, and where we learn about the prowess of true artificial intelligence as depicted in Chappie.
Cast in a supporting role, Weaver makes full use of the limited time she has onscreen. Her character should have been expanded further than merely sitting in an office chair. As for Jackman, we witness Vincent grow from good to evil, and charts his path as he discovers how formidable Chappie becomes.
Blomkamp scripts a plot that might be vaguely reminiscent of the recent Robocop, in which the robot exhibits human-like behavior. Chappie displays a strong concept focused on robots in the near future. It explores the idea of consciousness being wirelessly extracted from one’s brain and transferred to a new robot that then embodies the mind. While it is no doubt promising, the execution could nonetheless have been better and more sophisticated.
I rarely comment on a film’s score, yet I think the soundtrack for this needs a mention for being especially cool. Some of the tracks are by rap-rave group Die Antwoord, a duo consisting of Ninja (Watkin Tudor Jones) and Yolandie (Yolandi Visser) who also hold cameo roles as the gangsters in the film. Ninja exhibits the perfect mannerisms of a gangster, while Yolandie reveals her more pacifist side as she interacts with Chappie a great deal.
In the grand scheme of things, the plot is largely driven by the characters whose interesting actions demand your attention. With the film shot in the South African city of Johannesburg, Blomkamp continues to explore the futurist world of sci-fi possibilities in Chappie, and does so in robotic fashion topped with realistic CGI. Definitely worth a watch for sci-fi enthusiasts and tech geeks alike.
Chappie is now showing in theatres.
Directed by: Neill Blomkamp
Genre: Action, Sci-Fi, Thriller
Running time: 120 minutes