Directed by Neill Blomkamp
Starring Sharlto Copley, Dev Patel, Hugh Jackman
Post-apocalyptic landscapes are rife with dirty buildings and 80s-retro styles. Or, at least, that's what director Neill Blomkamp thinks in his newest South African sci-fi flick, Chappie. Featuring a charming robot that easily draws comparisons to The Iron Giant and Robocop, Blomkamp's film follows the rules of emotional tension while offering surprising performances, despite experiencing a few hiccups along the way.
It's the future and machines have replaced humans on the front line of the urban war on crime. The creator of the machines works tirelessly at night to come up with the capabilities of transferring human consciousness to the constable robots, in an effort to create a sustainable species of thinking and emoting machines. The idea is that good can conquer evil. Plans change when a rag tag group of druggies kidnap the creator and, in turn, witness the birth of one of the robots as an emotional, childlike machine that desires nurturing, similar to a child. Chappie, this robot, is endearing and innocent. The love of a mother and the respect of his maker set up the ultimate internal and external fight between good actions and bad actions and what emotional sacrifice really means. Oh, and Hugh Jackman shows up with a mullet.
The summation of all of Chappie's parts can seem overwhelming and tedious, as only science fiction projects can feel. But, Blomkamp does a decent job of piecing together wonderful moments that sometimes break, and other times warm, your heart. It's the times in between each of those moments when things seem to suffer. The quick advancement in the storyline early on creates a frantic pace that is hard to get used to. When presenting a new world that looks eerily similar to the one we currently live in, it's important to allow the audience the chance to see and experience the changes in the atmosphere and the surroundings. Blomkamp jumps too quickly from moment to moment to ever let anything sink in. This creates a lack of care for the entire storyline regarding the machines' creator, Deon, played decently by Dev Patel. Showing up as Deon's boss, Sigourney Weaver should be given more material to chew. Instead, she acts as a quick throwaway character that only shows up to react to everything else that's happening. Playing the druggy family that takes Chappie in, South African rap-rave group Die Antwoord members Ninja and Yolandi Visser give surprising performances, with Visser nailing the motherly role to the ultimate note.
In terms of performance, the one that makes the movie is the titular Chappie. Designed digitally and captured via motion capture technology, the robot immediately evokes every tender feeling a good, memorable character can on screen. Sharlto Copley, who appears in all of Blomkamp's films, gives the character life, bringing one of the best motion capture performances outside of Andy Serkis' apes and Gollum.
What works for Chappie are the extremes, whether that's in casting or visuals or the bombastic and electronic score by Hans Zimmer. What doesn't work is the pacing. But, at the end of it all, the pros outweigh the cons and what you are left with is a time at the theater well spent.
Runtime: 120 minutes