Chappie: a new film by South African Neill Blomkamp

poster of Chappie (film, source: Wikipedia)Set in the near future in a seamy Johannesburg, Indian born Deon Wilson (Dev Patel), is a high ranking executive in a Robotic Police Force company. Deon asks robo-boss Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver)  if he can use his artificial consciousness program on a scrapped unit. This could create a robot smarter than humans but she gives him the big old thumbs down. Of course he goes ahead with his plan and is successful in creating a robot which is conscious, smart and full of promise. In the meantime, small time criminals are planning a heist to get money, and decide to kidnap Deon to ask him how to shut down the robocops. Deon says it’s impossible and they're about to kill him, but then discover the unit in the back of his van. He assembles it for them, explaining that if his programme works, it can be taught. He puts it together and the robot has the personality of a scared child. The girl Yolandi tells him that he's a happy chappie and names him Chappie.

Turning in enjoyable performances as two members of the gang are Ninja and Yo-Landi Visser, a duo perhaps better known as the South African rap-rave group, Die Antwoord. They act as surrogate parents, teaching the newly conscious robot a rather skewed view of the world. Like real parents, the two don't always see eye-to-eye on the best way to bring up their adopted offspring, and watching Chappie navigate that conflict is a great aspect of the film. Chappie is brought to life in extraordinary fashion by South African actor and Blomkamp regular Sharlto Copley together with a team of animators. Like any child, Chappie will come under the influence of his surroundings and some of the best scenes are those where Copley is tasked with portraying this child-like robot when he comes across something heretofore unimaginable in his world, and which should be unimaginable, such as violent children with Molotov cocktails and learning how to fire a gun.

Director Neill Blomkamp is concerned about our future. If his first two features, District 9 and Elysium, didn't make that clear, Chappie most certainly does. Set in Johannesburg, and it’s a stark portrayal of the city, it is a tale of a sentient robot finding the best and worst of humanity, and while it may not be perfect, it asks questions about right and wrong, how we should pursue and use technology and treat other members of humanity. Actually, Chappie himself is more fully developed than those in charge. When Deon’s disappointed colleague Vincent (Hugh Jackman) finds out about him he takes revenge on his rival Deon. Stereotypically angry and with a screw loose, he uses his rejected Moose, (basically ED-209 from Robocop) and this leads to a monumental showdown between Good and Evil. However, the show is stolen by the performances of Ninja, Yo-Landi and Sharlto Copley; the crims who during the film develop from scary killers to sharing with us a softer side and by a robot who is the most human of all.

Related links:

  • Find Chappie in the ASC catalogue

Angie Robson, November 2015