Whenever director Neill Blomkamp has finished a new movie, I always look forward to it. The South African director had his big breakthrough, partly thanks to Peter Jackson, with his fantastic District 9. Not only the story it told was fascinating, but the effects were extremely convincing (which isn’t a surprise if you know he has a background in 3d effects). He followed it up with Elysium starring Matt Damon, which didn’t exactly receive glowing reviews, but which I personally really enjoyed. Chappie is his third movie. If you look at his first short movie from 2004, Tetra Vall, you immediately see the similarities between the main character from that with this movie, also a police robot in Johannesburg. Has Blomkamp managed to turn that short film into a fascinating feature film?
It immediately becomes clear that Blomkamp is a fan of robot movies, as in the first couplee of minutes you see references to Robocop (the start of using robotic police officers and the design of a big robot), Short Circuit and Real Steel (not only that the big robot can be operated by a man, but also that that man is actually Hugh Jackman, who was the star of Real Steel). Despite those references it is a movie which can stand on its own feet. The story is about Deon Wilson (Dev Patel), who works for the company Tetravaal (yes, the same one as in the 2004 short) as a genius scientist, responsible for the robot intelligence. His robots work alongside the normal police force and play an important part in decreasing the violence that plagues Johannesberg. His program is a huge success, so he decides to work on his next project: artificial intelligence.
As his manager isn’t too keen on this and actually doesn’t allow him to spend time on it, he decides to work on it at home. In order to test his program though he needs a robot and decides to steal one which is supposed to be scrapped. Meanwhile a criminal group, Die Antwoord (a real world rapgroup which consists of Yolandi Visser and Ninja), have to get their hands on a lot of money or face execution by a rival gang. They decide to kidnap Deon to ask for a ransom, but also end up getting the robot. They name it Chappie (which Sharlto Copley motion captured and does great voicework for), which basically is still a child with a lot to learn. Will these gangsters raise him right?
The end result is a very entertaining film in which Chappie has to find his own identity. He is very innocent and doesn’t know the difference between right and wrong. Die Antwoord sees him as the perfect partner for a robbery they are planning and Chappie is quick to learn things. As you may expect from Blomkamp the visuals are stunning and you regularly catch yourself wondering if you are looking at CGI or practical effects.
Even though the movie is called Chappie, Die Antwoord are more or less the main characters. It’s something not everyone will be able to appreciate, but as I personally enjoy their music and their style it only added to my appreciation of the film. They are basically themselves as you know them from their videos and the movie reflects that in their acting and the place they live.
Besides a lot of comedy and tense situations, Chappie also offers various great action sequences. Thanks to Copley’s acting work you care for Chappie and do think of what it really means to be human. Does it matter if you look like a robot if you feel like human? Chappie is another great movie by Blomkamp, who is now planned to make the next Alien movie. I’m definitely looking forward to that.