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Chappie

By on March 19, 2015

chappie

Chappie is the latest film from writer / director Neill Blomkamp, who previously brought us District 9 (excellent) and Elysium (entertaining), so it could be interesting, right?

Science fiction films these days are relatively few and far between, and with recent Star Trek films being handled as if they were Star Wars, the unmitigated horror of the most recent Star Wars films (16 years ago!), and the swiss-cheese-plot madness of the ever so pretty Prometheus, there’s not been many solid entries to the genre in recent years. In Neill Blomkamp, there’s the genuine danger that there could be an interesting sci-fi film. District 9 was engaging, as well as being a parable for the modern day issue of immigration. Elysium too, although the editorial influence of Hollywood money was clear to see on screen with focus on action over ideas, still made valid points about the division of wealth in the modern day.

This form of analogy between ridiculous sci-fi situations and the modern day is what good science fiction is supposed to do, and disappointingly it’s about the only thing Chappie actually achieves, albeit in a rather shallow way.

Chappie stars Dev Patel as ‘Deon’, the child-prodigy inventor of a new form of Police robot, being deployed to great effect in South Africa. His boss, Sigourney Weaver is only interested in money, and rejects his plans to experiment with Artificial Intelligence, so Deon steals a broken droid, and does it at home instead, easy. Meanwhile, Hugh Jackman is Deon’s professional nemesis, an ultra religious former special forces soldier who’s now a scientist capable of creating a Robocop style mech in the vein of ED209. His military spec mech isn’t selling, and coupled with his religious views that AI is an abomination, sets about to destroy most of Johannesburg as some form of biblical cleansing (but one with major career perks).

Rounding out the cast is Blomkamp’s buddy Sharlto Copley in the motion capture suit as Chappie. I’d venture the opinion that Sharlto Copley is just about the only actor to emerge with any credit here, as somehow they’re able to convey the innocence and vulnerability of Chappie as he learns and develops. That’s not to say that the performances of Patel, Weaver or Jackman are necessarily bad, but there’s definitely an element of paper-thin scripting in their motivations and characters.

Who is bad however are the three gangsters played by South African rap crew Die Antwoord. I thought Yolandi was the lesser offender of the three, but whether it’s their acting skills the script or the amount they’re hamming up their gangster style, they grate from the first moment you meet them, and they take up a large amount of screen-time.

The plot isn’t overly complicated, the gang abducts Deon and Chappie to make money, then realise that this combat droid can help them with crime. Meanwhile, as Chappie becomes sentient, Hugh’s professional jealousy gets the better of him, so he decides to deactivate the city’s entire robot police force to prove his walking tank is better at cleaning the mess he created. Even so, there are plot holes abound (wifi in an abandoned warehouse? Gun threats in an office, where are HR? etc), but it doesn’t really matter.

The whole thing is to get to a point where Chappie & Deon are able to define Human consciousness (via some excellent product placement – linking 8 PS4s for real computing power!), then move it from one place to another; and this is the idea the film want you thinking about; what is consciousness? What is sentience? It’s a point that’s not exactly given as much breathing room as the central ideas of his other films, and nowhere near the depth of Spike Jonze’s excellent ‘Her’ or Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror episode ‘Be Right Back’. Chappie isn’t as serious; It’s Short Circuit 3 vs Robocop, in a way, with that exact strange mix of tones a hybrid of those two would produce.

Chappie has some enjoyable sections, the initial robot police raid, the car-jacking, the effects are genuinely impressive and there is some humour in there too.

Overall, probably a film for sci-fi fans wanting a fix rather than a must see on it’s own merits. Enjoyable, but forgettable.

4/10

About Mr Vandelay

Editor at large

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