When I first saw the trailers for Chappie with Neill Blomkamp’s name on it, I wanted to shoot right out of my seat and land in the closest theater and just wait there so I could be the first to see it. I feel like Blomkamp is at the head of the pack along with a few other in terms of modern science fiction movies. His films have this urban grit that meshes so well with the high tech sci-fi, and Chappie certainly isn’t any different. The troubling thing is that every critic seems to have major problems with it, and I found it to be far superior to his previous film, Elysium.
In the near future, the police force in Johannesburg, South Africa is largely made up of state of the art police robots designed by Deon Wilson (Dev Patel). On his own time, however, Deon is working overtime trying to unlock the key to creating true artificial intelligence, a daunting task that eventually pays off. After stealing a deactivated police robot, Deon puts in the artificial intelligence chip, but not before being kidnapped by gangsters Amerika (Jose Pablo Cantillo) and Ninja and Yolandi (played by South African rap group Die Antwoord). When the robot comes to life and becomes aware of the surroundings, he is named Chappie (Sharlto Copely). As Ninja begins training Chappie to be a gangster for a major heist, Deon and Yolandi work to train Chappie in the finer things of life and protect him from the outside world. Meanwhile, Deon’s competitor in the company, Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman), works to get his own police robot on the scene, no matter who has to die.
Compared to District 9 and Elysium, Chappie feels like Blomkamp’s departure from a more violent and hopeless kind of science fiction. Both of the Blomkamp’s earlier movies leaves me feeling a strange sense of dread by the end of them, but Chappie made me feel different. There’s plenty of social commentary to be found, but I was way more interested in the characters and what happened to them. That being said, I felt that was the intention. There’s a lot of focus behind the differing factions of characters and the philosophical urges that push them. Then there’s Chappie, another memorable robot to add to the list of memorable robots. By the end of this movie, even though it doesn’t quite end on the happiest of notes, left me feeling a lot better for the situations and the characters than Blomkamp’s other movies did.
There are plenty of great actors in this movie and a few quite interesting casting choices to really regard as a cinematic anomaly. The star of the whole show is Sharlto Copley who did the voice and motion capture for Chappie. Copley’s voice and movements bring Chappie to life more than any kind of advanced special effects could. He’s a tragic and interesting character and plays it to perfection. Dev Patel and Hugh Jackman work well as enemies, even though Jackman’s character was one of the least interesting parts of the entire movies. Finally, we have Ninja and Yolandi, a South African rap-rave group that seems to be playing themselves. I’m a big fan of Die Antwoord, and seeing them act was odd. Ninja was pretty on point and Yolandi did well with her character, but there were times where I was reminded that they weren’t trained actors. Still it was pretty wild to see them.
As I said before, Chappie dives right into social commentary in that strangely real way Neill Blomkamp does. District 9 brought racism to the screen in a way that was fresh and memorable while Elysium dealt with class differences in a classic science fiction sort of way. With Chappie, Blomkamp deconstructs the idea of a police state and a society that has become far too mechanized. This is a theme that plays very well with society today, in a world where technology seems to be going crazy. Combine that with the military, and things may continue looking bleak. It’s a smart way to go about telling a story, and it’s incredibly original in a world of reboots, remakes, and adaptations.
While Chappie isn’t quite District 9 it shoots past Elysium, and I’m baffled as to why critics are giving this movie such a hard time. Not only are there memorable characters, a sentimental feeling, and interesting commentary on technology and government, but all of that wrapped up in Neill Blomkamp’s distinct style. Not only is Chappie a good movie, Chappie is also a great movie. Suck it, critics.