After the muddled Elysium, it was almost certain that Neill Blomkamp would recover. District 9 was, in our opinion, one of the best sci-fi films of the last twenty years and mixed social realities, action, comedy and science-fiction with an ease not seen since Paul Verhoeven or Ridley Scott. With Chappie, his third feature-length film, Blomkamp is again working within his wheelhouse.
et in the not-too-distant future, Johannesburg has launched the world's first robotic police force. Created by an achingly earnest Dev Patel, they've all but replaced humans as law enforcement in the crime-ridden city. The company that builds these robots, led by Sigourney Weaver, are keen to continue their work. However, Patel's focus has shifted to creating a fully-functional artificial intelligence; but corporate indifference means that he's working on the project alone and steals a damaged robot to upload the AI.
oncurrently, an unhinged engineer (Hugh Jackman) is working on a competing project that closely resembles Robocop's ED-209 and can be controlled by humans, instead of Patel's automated robots. Patel is then kidnapped by three criminals (Jose Pablo Cantillo and Die Antworod's Ninja and Yoldani) in order to help them with a heist. Unbeknownst to them, they also kidnapped Patel's experiment. The robot is then activated and, in a truly touching scene, experiences life for the first time.
atel, as mentioned, is so achingly earnest that it recalls his character in HBO's The Newsroom. We're rooting for him, sure, but some of the dialogue is so naive that it borders closely on schmaltz. Meanwhile, Jackman's nutjob of an engineer is fun, but somewhat underdeveloped. Die Antwoord's Yolandi oddly works in this messed-up reality whilst her counterpart, Ninja, is the film's biggest fault. Although a lot of their scenes with Chappie feel like an extended music video, Ninja's glaring lack of experience and mangled dialogue are in almost every scene and sequence. The real star is Chappie, mo-capped and voiced by Sharlto Copley. His wonder at the world and innocent worldview, that becomes corrupted by Die Antwood, is what drives the film's narrative.
lomkamp has corrected his faults from Elysium. Where that was weighed down with its concept and the visual aspects, jettisoning any kind of forward motion or story, Chappie feels brisk at two hours. He hasn't lost his ability to direct action scenes and his sharp editing skills means that the film never loses its pace. Some of the dialogue, as mentioned, is stiff in places, especially Patel's and Weaver's - who is criminally underused like Jackman.
n all, Chappie is a well-constructed sci-fi film with some real moments of humour and heart. Recommended.