Starring Sharlto Copley, Dev Patel, Ninja, Yolandi Visser, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Hugh Jackman, Sigourney Weaver. Directed by Neill Blomkamp. (2015, 120 min). Sony
Having finally seen it, I have to place Chappie on that sad list of potential blockbusters which inexplicably failed to find an audience in theaters. Like last year's equally-maligned Edge of Tomorrow, Chappie is a cut above your typical FX-driven picture: clever & witty, with a compelling premise, interesting characters and impressive visual effects which actually serve the story, not vise versa. As director Neill Blomkamp's third feature, it isn't as unique and original as District 9, but an improvement over his interesting-but-aloof Elysium.
Like District 9, the film takes place in Johannesburg. At an unspecified point in the future, the solution to rampant crime has been government use of law enforcement robots designed by engineer Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) and manufactured by the Tetravaal corporation. Wilson's ambition has him developing a program which can instill genuine emotions in his creations, an idea shot down by CEO Bradley (Sigourney Weaver, in a thankless role). So he steals a recently damaged robot in order to test it out.
Unfortunately, a local small-time gang kidnaps Wilson, forcing him to reprogram the robot to help them do heists in order to pay-off a crime boss. Wilson complies, using this opportunity to install his new software. When the robot reawakens, it has the mind as a child experiencing various emotions for the first time...fear, joy, anger...even embarrassment.
Gang leaders Ninja and Yolandi imprint their own ideals and morals upon the robot. Yolandi names it Chappie and becomes sort-of a surrogate mother figure, reading it stories and displaying affection, while Ninja is initially more concerned about teaching Chappie how to commit crimes and act ‘gangster‘. While neither are what anyone would call responsible mentors, these two have a huge impact on Chappie’s emotional development, which leads to some amusing scenes in which Chappie processes these ideals. Meanwhile, disgruntled Tetravaal engineer Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman), whose similar prototype (MOOSE) was shoved by the wayside, tries to take advantage of Wilson’s rogue actions in order to push his own creation.
Chappie’s emotional development is the crux of the story, since he’s an innocent being bombarded by conflicting ideas of morality. At the same time, his creativity and problem-solving abilities are growing exponentially. Because of this, he’s the most likable and charming character in the entire film (and perfectly voiced by Sharlto Copley). Ninja & Yolandi (named for the actual rave-rap duo who play them), despite being low-life thugs, manage to become more endearing as the story progresses. The same cannot be said for Moore; Jackman does what he can, but as antagonists go, he’s a one-note caricature...and what the hell’s up with that hair and Steve Erwin get-up?
The final act descends into your typical violent shoot ‘em up (with echoes of Robocop 2, of all things), and late plot turns will require some suspension of disbelief. But those are minor flaws since the rest of the film is exciting and engaging...even a little thought provoking when it challenges our definition of sentient life. Chappie comes to an enormously satisfying - yet open-ended - conclusion. So if there is indeed no follow-up (and its box office performance suggests there won’t be), it’s doubtful anyone will feel cheated. In either case, like Edge of Tomorrow and Dredd, Chappie deserves a second life on home video.
- Featurettes: "Chappie: The Streetwise Professor"; "Arms Race: Weapons & Robots"; "Bringing Chappie to Life: The Visual Effects"; "From Tetra Vaal to Chappie" (Tetra Vaal is the short the film is partially based on); "The Reality of Robotics"; "Keep it Gangster"; "Rogue Robot: Deconstructing the Stunts and Special Effects"; "Jozi: Real City and a Sci-Fi Setting"
- Alternate Ending (which is just as good, with more apocalyptic implications)
- Extended Scene
- Artwork Gallery
- Digital Copy