Neill Blomkamp is a director whose work has always intrigued me. Since his debut feature-length film, District 9, he has been a director who has been very much on my radar. For me, District 9 was an expertly crafted blend of [albeit a bit heavy-handed] social commentary and interesting action. This was a formula that worked to the South African director’s benefit in the film.
His next film, Elysium, however, left me a bit unsatisfied, and wanting more. I don’t want to get into the details, because this is not a review for Elysium, but in this film, the social commentary lost almost any bit of subtlety that was present in District 9. I felt a bit like I was being beaten over the head with class-separation imagery, and although the film was enjoyable overall, it left me with a bit of a headache.
And now here we are, two years later, with Blomkamp’s next film, Chappie. The film revolves around the creation and life of the robot Chappie, the world’s first sentient robot. The nature of Chappie’s programming is such that he is very childlike, and has to learn everything. Extenuating circumstances lead to his being raised by a group of gangsters, which makes for some great scenes.
Now, instead of making you read through this entire review just to understand how I feel about the movie, I’ll summarize it quickly now, then go on in more detail. Overall, Chappie is a thoroughly enjoyable movie. With elements that seem to be paying homage to Robocop, some brilliant acting, excellent music, and an incredibly lovable main character make this movie solid all around. The movie does fall short in some aspects, mainly in some of its acting, and in certain segments of the plot. It is not a perfect film, but Chappie gives viewers one of the most lovable main characters I’ve seen in a long time, and is definitely worth seeing.
The main strength in the movie, as mentioned just before, is Chappie’s character. From two minutes after his being booted up, I was already extremely emotionally invested in his character. The writing behind the childlike robot made for the emotional core of the film to be as deep as it was. The credit for the brilliance of Chappie does not belong to the writers alone, though. Most of the credit belongs to acting of the character by Sharlto Copley. I can’t even begin to imagine having to voice this childlike robot without even seeing what it looks like, but Copley pulls it off brilliantly. There’s something about a childish robot with an innocent-sounding South African accent that brings a smile to my face. Another aspect that helped with relating to Chappie on such a deep level is the CGI in the film. The robots looked phenomenal, which is relieving in a film whose main character is one.
The other actors in the film did a good job as well for the most part (Dev Patel once again has earned his place in my good books), but some of the acting does fall a bit short. Although the one-dimensional writing does not help, Hugh Jackman as the main villain of the film did not evoke any sort of emotion in me. A good villain should be easy to relate to in some way, but his character simply was not. The same goes for Sigourney Weaver’s character in the film, who added virtually nothing to the story. Looking back on the film, I can say with ease that if she were not in the movie, it would still be the same.
Chappie will most likely keep you engaged throughout the 2-hour long runtime. At times the story might put you at the edge of your seat by means of some extremely well executed, gritty action scenes (I really love the grit of Blomkamp’s films). Sometimes Chappie (both the film and the character) will make you laugh and smile, and other times, tears might start to well up in your eyes.
However, if you’re similar to me, the ending of the movie will take you out of the story, and leave you feeling slightly dejected. I’m not going to spoil any details of the ending, but I will say that for the entire film, I was wholly invested in its story, and despite a few faults here and there, I was totally engaged. The last few minutes of the film took me out of the experience, and made me realize I was no longer in futuristic South Africa, but rather that I was sitting in a Montreal theater with my girlfriend, surrounded by people who did not seem as distanced from the movie I as I was at that moment.
All this being said, although the final taste the film leaves is slightly bitter, it does not stop me from saying that Chappie was a very good time, and featured some great acting, writing, and a great soundtrack by Hans Zimmer to boot. Although it is a bit clunky at times, and is not quite a phenomenal movie, it is for sure worth a watch.