This film got a pretty hard time after its release in theatres, with many critics and moviegoers alike responding with little more than ambivalence. So you are forgiven for expecting a mediocre film with a lack of any real substance. ‘Chappie’ is a bizarre mixture of grunge and techno-babble, but I mean that in a good way. Whilst it does explain some of the more important and challenging theories, like the Laws of Robotics, it only lightly touches on them without overwhelming the audience. For the most part I enjoyed this film, because it does away with most clichés of the genre, i.e. space-age Greek tragedies, and explores the more positive side of sci-fi here and there.
‘Chappie’ takes places in the not too distant future, set in South Africa, where criminal activity is policed by robotic law-enforcers. When Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) programmes one of these robots to be a more sentient being, better equipped to protect and serve, his superiors disapprove of his dalliances in artificial intelligence. We all know what comes after benevolent A.I don’t we? That’s right, the bad guys swoop in and want their own little robotic menace. Corrupt military general Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman) sees what the titular robot is capable of under this new, malevolent programming, and declares war on all things technological. It is Deon Wilson’s job to prove to the world that Chappie is one of the good guys.
Admittedly, the visual style can be slightly jarring from time to time. It consists of heavy grunge and urban settings, while still holding onto various sci-fi tropes like the corporate robot plant or the crazed scientist’s house. The two don’t clash, but they are styles which don’t always naturally complement one another. It would be a different matter if the grungier zones were depicted as upgraded districts rather than settling with modern day South Africa. It’s like jumping from the ghettos of Compton to a version of Disney’s Tomorrow Land, where all the nice little robots cleaned up after you and helped people out. Quite a stark contrast to get your head around, I know.
You would expect the weird and wonderful visuals to come from South African rap-rave group Die Antwoord, with band members Ninja and Yolandi Visser taking on the roles of the two street thugs. Thankfully, they disguise their more flashy, onstage persona and deliver a rather convincing display as gruff criminals. The big name on the cast list, Hugh Jackman, is the commonplace, egotistical villain. However, he plays it slightly different, by being a little more forthcoming with his aggressive side, offering a breath of fresh air from the usual sci-fi villain grasping for power and control.
There are very few sci-fi films that leave me wanting more. The conclusion to this film certainly left it open for a ‘Chappie’ sequel, and thankfully leaves enough room to make a welcome sequel rather than a forced one, like some of the other various franchises. As for now, it’s a good start to a possible series. Since it touched on so many topics, and tied up a few of them rather nicely, there’s no telling what themes they might address in any further installments. If you want to see a mildly gritty sci-fi film, and you’re willing to go in with an open mind, ‘Chappie’ is right on the money. This is evidence of what sci-fi films can be if they take more of a modern day approach.
DIRECTOR: NEILL BLOMKAMP
STARRING: SHARLTO COPLEY, DEV PATEL, HUGH JACKMAN, SIGOURNEY WEAVER