Movie Review: Chappie

Ringing in the Spring season with another typical science fiction entry, full of robotic hijinks and corrupt governments, Chappie strives to bring ground-breaking innovation and intelligent ideology to a simple plot of man versus machine. With an odd yet unique cast from South African rappers to the likes of one antsy Hugh Jackman, as well as the usual powerhouse special effects that director Neill Blomkamp always brings to the table, Chappie is an intriguing envisioning of what the world might look like in a robot-centric and gang-infested future.

Diving into the dark and grimy futuristic streets of Johannesburg, South Africa, we find the primal division between man and machine, where violent gangs battle with elite police forces of mechanized soldiers. Behind these robot combatants, there stands their creator Deon (Dev Patel), a man struggling with his own theology on how these mindless soldiers should behave and think. With a sudden breakthrough in his artificial intelligence program, Deon decides to test one of the police units to see if all his hard work has paid off. These are the origins of Chappie (Sharlto Copley), the damaged police unit who gains consciousness, all while being dropped into the middle of conflicting sides: His faithful creator on one side, and a gang of violent misfits on the other. Struggling to develop his own morality, as well as protect the ones that strive to protect him, Chappie must decide if he wants to be a weapon to mankind, or the next step in human evolution.

With inspirational previews of robots evolving into greater beings, as well as some eye-popping scenes of top-notch special effects, Chappie drew me in right from the start. Promising some more visually-pleasing excitement from director Neill Blomkamp, who made Matt Damon into an amplified warrior out for revenge in 2013's Elysium, Chappie looked to be a decent sci-fi adventure worth exploring. While, in the end, it may have not rubbed off on me as much as I had hoped, with a bleak plot and moderate performances, Chappie offers up just a tad more of what Blomkamp is capable of.

The science fiction genre rears its imaginative head once more, as 2015 ignites again for another awesome year of space flight and technological feats. With films like Star Wars and Avengers, as well as Terminator and Jurassic Park all gaining new sequels, the genre is exploding even further into the stars this year. But aside from the big names and the bulky franchises, the small guys are sometimes the ones that pack the biggest punch. While last month's Jupiter Ascending didn't offer much to the genre, it was hopeful that the up-and-coming master of sci-fi, Neill Blomkamp, wouldn't let us down. Debuting a surprising yet dull third outing as director, Blomkamp brought broad concepts of both evolution and immortality to a genre not too unfamiliar to those ideas. While the ideas of robots transcending further from mere machines into (almost) immortal beings may have not made a great impact on this genre of humanoid robots and ever-evolving philosophies, Chappie managed to take sci-fi fans to an interesting world of creatively odd imagination. While it may not be lightsabers or Terminators, the technical and visual aspects of the film make it a worthy flick to check out.  Boosting futuristic thoughts, as well as technological advancements, Blomkamp definitely has a knack for the sci-fi genre, becoming one of the most unique directors out there today.

Working alongside these motley creations from the mind of its director, the cast of the film was quite similar in peculiarity to Blomkamp's previous films. While watching the film, it became clear of the obvious parallels the director creates with his characters. While I haven't yet seen District 9, I can compare some of his characters in 2013's Elysium to this film. As for the main character, we have with Elysium Matt Damon's Max DeCosta, which parallels quite well with Chappie's own Chappie: Both outsiders to a corrupt world, these two must sacrifice both their bodies and their minds to prevent something bad from happening to the ones they love most. Yes, while one may be a rugged human who seeks paradise, and the other a new-born robot out to understand human nature, these two are definitely similar in some aspects. Another parallel that became apparent were the similarities in the two film's antagonists. With Elysium, we have Jodie Foster's malicious dictator Secretary Rhodes and Sharlto Copley's savage bounty hunter Kruger, whom easily parallel with Sigourney Weaver's careless subordinate Michelle Bradley and Hugh Jackman's mindless psychopath Vincent Moore from Chappie. With Weaver and Foster, we have two high-seated women trapped between right and wrong, and drunk with authority that they cannot control; As for Jackman and Copley, they are just two beasts in a cage of disrespect, ready to be released, just so they can take the throne for themselves and enslave the lesser animals beneath them.

However, aside from those minor parallels, the rest of the cast was odd, yet quite entertaining. The highlight of the cast, aside from Sharlto Copley's excellent motion-capture for Chappie, was the inclusion of the South African rap-rave group Die Antwoord. As cryptic and creepy as one rap group could get, the two members, Ninja and Yolandi Visser, actually bring both the heart and the comedy to this gritty sci-fi flick. Acting as adopted parents to the lone robot Chappie, after kidnapping his creator (Dev Patel), these two (plus their third gang member Amerika) introduce Chappie to a world of gang violence and wild hijinks, in hopes of making Chappie their newest weapon. While these two odd characters from a rap group may not be the next Leonardo DiCaprio or Meryl Streep acting-wise, they do add some much needed strangeness and personality to this Robo-Cop-like film. And with a bug-eyed Hugh Jackman jacked on his own power, as well as one of the hippest robot gangsters I've ever seen, the cast of this film is most definitely a product from the creative mind of Neill Blomkamp.

In the end, a film of hopeful robots, heightening philosophies of human evolution, and corrupt diplomats with big guns manages to bring a nice gleam to the eye, but doesn't remain in our sights for long. With a director set on broadening our minds on the conflicting issues of a future not so distant, and some amazing visual effects, Chappie retains a certain personality that makes it entertaining; However, with a dull plot moviegoers have seen time and time again, it fails to surpass other sci-fi epics of the past.

I gave this film a 7 out of 10 because of some great visual effects, a nice amount of thrills with an odd gang of rapping misfits, and a product that's as close to Daniel H. Wilson's Robopocalypse as one can get on-screen (well, almost). 


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