This one I recommend.

This one I recommend.

I fink dis movie freaky.

I fink dis movie freaky.

South Africa has always been a weird place to me. It is a country where everyone sounds British and have Dutch names, and as if that’s not enough, we now have a film produced in that very same country that features an Indian bloke, a few Mexican actors, one American lady, an Australian man, and a highly bizarre South African rap-rave duo called Die Antwoord. Oh and I believe that there’s a robot voiced by Sharlto Copley in there somewhere.

A lesson in how to be

A lesson in how to be “gangsta”.

So, Neill Blomkamp of District 9 and Elysium fame is back, and this year he gives us Chappie; a movie that can probably best be summarized as some kind of mix between Short Circuit, RoboCop and, heck, even Blomkamp’s previous movies. However, this is still one of those films that, through some miracle, finds a way to use its sc-fi clichés well and manage to create a genuinely fun and entertaining film that feels fresh in spite of them.

Chappie takes place in the city of Johannesburg, where a weapons company called Tetravaal is producing gun-weilding droids, as per the design of a young geeky genius named Deon Wilson (Dev Patel), which are being used for law enforcement all over town. If that doesn’t already sound similar enough to RoboCop for ya, one of the other employees of the company, a testy fella named Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman), has designed his own contribution to the world of crime-fighting: an enormous robot called “Moose”, which looks dangerously similar to ED-209 from RoboCop and keeps having its activation halted by Tetravaal’s supervisor Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver). As you may have guessed, Vincent is disappointed and noticeably envious at the progress of Deon’s creations.

Deon, however, has even bigger dreams than that. For the longest time, he’s been working around the clock to create the world’s first Artificial Intelligence. It seems he has finally succeeded, but since he is forbidden by Bradley from testing the A.I. on the police droids, he steals a broken one out of desperation. It only gets worse when he’s cornered by a remarkably colorful group of local gangsters, who aim to use Deon’s knowledge to get rid of the droids that interfere with their criminal business. The gang consists of Jose Pablo Cantillo as Amerika the Mexican and, at last, Watkin “Ninja” Tudor Jones and Yo-Landi Visser of Die Antwoord, pretty much playing themselves. They hold Deon hostage in their ghetto hideout as he convinces them to let him test his A.I. on the broken droid. They agree and right in front of their eyes, the A.I. proves functional and a childlike, curious, fully sentient robot is born. His name is Chappie. Or CHAPPiE if you wanna be technical.

Jackman knows that Patel is hiding something in 'Chappie'.

Jackman knows that Patel is hiding something in ‘Chappie’.

Played, of course, by Sharlto Copley, Chappie fascinates and endears both Deon and Yo-Landi a great deal. Deon, whom Chappie comes to identify as “Maker”, wishes to teach him the ways of humanity, whilst Yo-Landi, whom Chappie starts calling “Mommy”, simply wants to raise him as her own child of sorts. But then there’s Ninja, who wants to use Chappie in his criminal schemes and teach him the ways of being a hammy street thug, which is precisely the path that Chappie begins to tread whenever Deon’s not around the group’s headquarters. It doesn’t get better when Vincent finds out what Deon’s hiding out there, or when a local gang lord known as “The Hippo” (Brandon Auret), who’s already gotten Amerika and Die Antwoord in various forms of trouble, gets his eyes on the increasingly juvinile but still childishly naive little robot.

In fact, let’s talk about how great this robot is, both as a character and as a visual effect. Not only is this the hardest I’ve rooted for a Sharlto Copley character, or a Neill Blomkamp character for that matter, since I saw District 9, but the droid in question is also extremely well-made, as much in terms of mo-cap acting as CGI.

He always looks like he’s truly there, hugging people and interacting with miscellaneous objects. Additionally, once you couple his convincing presence with his sweet personality and his relationship with Deon and Yo-landi, you get a character that’s lovable and sympathetic enough to make the movie work, which I was so very afraid it wouldn’t. Chappie is not just another purely innocent Johnny-5 nor is he another generic A.I. that goes evil and has to be stopped. He’s more human and, eventually, more clever than that. I shan’t spoil further!

Patel’s character was highly likeable and smart too, providing nice contrast to the roughness of Chappie’s other father-figure Ninja, and Hugh Jackman’s performance as the villainous Vincent is quite a treat. See, casting Hugh Jackman as the antagonist of a picture is unusual by itself, but then there’s the fact that the filmmakers seemingly went out of their way to make him as Australian as possible by having him keep his native accent for once, use “mate” as punctuation for everything, and spy on our heroes while sporting cargo shorts, a gun holster and a pair of binoculars. I could just imagine him looking at Die Antwoord through those things and going “These animals are very rare”.

Yo-Landi reading a bedtime story for Chappie.

Yo-Landi reading a bedtime story to Chappie.

Speaking of Die Antwoord, I honestly thought they did a much more passable acting job than one would expect (especially considering how difficult they reportedly were to work with), and even if Blomkamp’s trademark “gritty ghetto”-style was present in this movie as well, they helped give it a more colorful and distinctively crazy style by helping design the headquarters of their characters in the film. The place is covered in crude writing and graffiti that looks like a mix between David Firth cartoons and unicorn vomit; in a good Antwoord-ish sort of way.

Their music videos are, stylistically, really cool, but the only song of theirs I recall liking is “Ugly Boy”, and that was only because it’s a collaboration with Aphex Twin, with his “Ageispolis” used as the basis for their lyrics. I do enjoy their over-the-top quirkiness, though, and the tracks used for this film – “Cookie Thumper” and “Enter the Ninja” – were not only pretty good, but they also didn’t feel as out-of-place or distracting as I feared they would. The rest of the film’s music is crafted by Hans Zimmer, which just makes it all the better!

Since its initial release, Chappie has been met with negative reviews and people calling it a sour note in the symphony of Blomkamp. Me? I think it’s definitely worth giving a shot. I enjoyed the music, the look, the characters, the storyline, the genuine suspense near and during the climax, and the performances. Aside from some needless slo-mo shots and scenes that look like they were shot on video, this seemed like a fine film to me. Who knows? Perhaps I’m too much of a Neill Blomkamp fanboy? After all, I loved Elysium the first time I saw it but its appeal has worn off over time. I do feel, however, that Chappie, by contrast, is a movie that I’m going to like more over time. I urge my readers to give it the same chance.

People have also been disappointed to find that the movie revolves too much around Chappie’s life amongst the thugs, claiming that the trailers left this plot detail out, and I could initially not see how that could be, since trailers such as the one I’ve linked to below seem perfectly honest about what the movie’s main focus is. Then I saw trailer #2, which builds Chappie up as some sort of action movie à la District 9 and then it all made sense. So, dear readers, if you wish to enjoy Chappie as much as it deserves to be enjoyed, go see it with the following preview in mind:

4.5/5 whatever