Touching back down in South Africa and what he does well after the quite terrible ‘Elysium’, Neil Blomkamp deals with crime, humanity and technology in this shaky but gritty tale of robotics and the soul. There are script issues aplenty and some of the acting leaves a lot to be desired but by the time the kindergarten-esque credits roll, you feel you’ve watched something entertaining and put together well enough.
Problems are rife in the city of Johannesburg and to combat the many crimes, Tetravaal lead the way in robotics to stamp down on offenders of the law. One of their best and brightest is Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) who has invented fleets of police robots. His success is not a happy subject for ex-soldier and fellow inventor Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman) who tries to tear apart Wilson’s work to get his own design on the streets. One of the police droids becomes tangled up with new software, a trio of criminals, including rap pair Die Antwoord, seemingly themselves, hilariously and the dangerous city. His name is Chappie.
The concept itself is running deliciously with big planned ideas and the themes of parental care, humanity versus artificial intelligence and differences in Jo-burg all come together agreeably. In fact, a good many of this movie’s stronger qualities can be found in the dealing of Chappie’s viewpoint of the world, seen through his eyes of the largest South African city. Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell’s script shines most when concerning the way Chappie grows in this troubling environment.
In keeping with the grand themes of the piece, the visuals are pretty spectacular and come with that treacherous and gritty style linked to Neil Blomkamp’s great directing flair. Credit too, has to be handed to Trent Opaloch who captures the dangers of the city streets with a keen eye. The ruined concrete home that belongs to Yolandi and Ninja of Die Antwoord fame is shot really well, sun glares bouncing off the crumbling edges giving the location a defined image. In general, the imagery can be overbearing with constant uses of graffiti being distracting but overall, the film at least looks the part.
One problem that I found upon watching this feature, was the forced manner in making us realise the main themes. After a while the bringing up baby like Chappie became like a barrage of, ‘Hey, get this metaphor about the way the world taints us all!’. The torn up city appears like a microcosm of our entire planet and how black sheep are treated poorly, another thing that gets gently rammed down our throats to try and keep us on side with the developing robot character. There’s nothing amazingly new in the struggles of the plot even though it seems like it’s acting that way.
I have to admit that a couple of scenes or montages are crafted lovingly, the way Chappie is taught at times, or how he learns notions himself are done in a heartfelt manner and along with the quite endearing behaviour of Chappie and the score of Hans Zimmer, you feel on his side, even if the three gangsters persist to try and make the robot bad, it’s alright at first as that’s who they are but after a while it honestly threatens the connection to Happy Chappie.
Dev Patel plays his part greatly, subtleties in his eyes and general facial movements make him stand out as a kind soul and the only character to root for and like at all. Hugh Jackman sports a spectacular mullet, is gruff and mean and he goes for broke when in control of his creation, but there’s never enough substance to his motive to make him more than just a flat villain. Sigourney Weaver is in the movie a little to scarce amount and does nothing of major note. Die Antwoord stars hit the silver screen big time and act as OTT as possible in squealing result of their casting. Ninja is horrific and never gets a redeeming chance even if the film tries to hand it to him, the gangster act is too much. Yolandi in all her out there get up has a couple of grounded moments and fares better than her musical partner. Sharlto Copley provides believable motion capture and his vocals are broken yet sweet and breathe life into this creation.
The film stumbles now and then like a reject robot in its quest to stand tall as a powerful thoughtful reminder of how society is treated. It does achieve some impressive and better moments too and it’s hard not to fall for Chappie but in the end a whole deal of over acting and too much happening gives this robot film a needed manufacturing job.