Review - Chappie

Chappie (2015), R, 120 minutes - Over the last few years, writer/director Neill Blomkamp has quickly become one of my favorite film creators.  His filmography so far is relatively limited, but his creativity, socio-political awareness, and effects abilities combine to produce very compelling stories.  Chappie is no different, exploring the creation of a true artificial intelligence inside a mechanized police-bot in the violent streets of Johannesburg, South Africa in the very near future.

Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) is a robotics engineer and the creator of the humanoid droids that weapons engineering firm Tetravaal has outsourced to the Johannesburg police force.  The success of Wilson's droid design has led Tetravaal to cut funding to another line of enforcement droids in development by fellow robotics engineer Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman).  Deon continues efforts to improve his droids even further, developing an artificial intelligence that will allow them to adapt and think in the field just as a human cop would.  Against Tetravaal CEO Michelle Bradley's (Sigourney Weaver) orders, he takes a damaged droid chassis marked for destruction to test his A.I., but before he is able to do so, he's abducted by Ninja (Ninja), Yolandi (Yo-Landi Visser), and Yankie (Jose Pablo Cantillo), small time criminals, who demand that Wilson give them control of the droid so that they can use it to help pay off their debt to Johannsburg gang-lord Hippo (Brandon Auret).  Deon explains that the droid he has is broken, but he may be able to fix it with his A.I. program.  Chappie is 'born' and a custody battle of sorts breaks out between Deon and the crooks.  As his awareness expands, Chappie is influenced by both his creator and his 'parents' Yolandi and Ninja.  As a burgeoning A.I., Chappie makes choices and mistakes just as a child would while growing up learning the difference between right and wrong.  Throw in a little robotics sabotage courtesy of Vincent and Chappie sticks out as an aberration and a potential danger and becomes hunted by Johannesburg's human law enforcement.

Blomkamp juggles not only the possible ramifications of a fully aware artificial intelligence, but the basic concept of nature versus nurture.  Is Chappie inherently dangerous because he cannot be controlled?  Or will he learn from his surroundings and mold his personality and actions based on his experiences as Deon had hoped to accomplish?  Parts of the film feel childish while others are frighteningly realistic.  I feel that this film has gotten a bad rap on the web for the former.  What do we expect from a fledgling consciousness?  There will always be stumbling blocks along the way and I think Chappie addresses those well.  That's not to say the film doesn't have some small issues.  I find it hard to believe that Deon was able to steal a piece of Tetravaal property in broad daylight despite his security clearances.  But hey, if they addressed every last detail, we'd have a four hour movie on our hands.

Blomkamp film mainstay Sharlto Copley performed both the motion capture and the voice for Chappie, providing the film a humanoid protagonist that the viewer cares and sympathizes for. Patel and Jackman portray a stereotypical jock/nerd dynamic within the walls of Tetravaal, and Sigourney Weaver's appearance is cool but under-used.  Hip-hop/rave outfit Die Antwoord (Ninja and Visser), along with Auret inject another dose of South African authenticity into the film.

All in all, I enjoyed Chappie.  Blomkamp has stated that when he conceived the idea for the film, he blocked it out as a trilogy that would allow for further exploration of the story.  Considering the meager box office performance of Chappie to this point, I would be surprised if such a project were green lit.  But if it were, I'd be there.  Any fan of Blomkamp's work will appreciate and be entertained by Chappie.  For those who may not be familiar with his movies but are intrigued by the concepts of this film, I would definitely recommend giving it a shot as a rental.  I'd suggest checking it out as a cheap matinee but I've been a little slow to get this review posted and it may not be widely available in theaters any longer.











*****SPOILERS*****

Tetra Vaal (2004), NR, 2 minutes - Similarly to Disctrict 9, Chappie is a feature length adaptation of one of Neill Blomkamp's short films.  




- I loved that the cartoon running when Chappie turned on the television was He-Man and the Masters of the Universe.  That was one of my childhood favorites.

- I thought it was kind of funny that the only South African subtitled in the film was Hippo.  I personally didn't think he was any more difficult to understand than Ninja or Yolandi (who weren't very hard to understand at all).

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