I've had a love for all things Blomkamp since Peter Jackson announced he was going to be the director of the ill-fated Halo movie. The short films that were pre cursors to Halo 3 he made, with the technological know how of Weta workshop and his pension for all things post apocalyptic, were astounding in their action and storytelling. He then followed up with finally making District 9 based upon his short film Alive in Johburg. We were then treated to Elysium, which many people critically panned, but I found quite entertaining, and the characters that were fleshed out to be some of the best sci-fi characters ever such as Sharlto Copley's villainous Krueger. With two films under his belt as well as many short films he is ready to complete his sci-fi trilogy as he calls it with the film, Chappie.
I remember when this was announced Blomkamp stated that this was his sci-fi comedy and I remember being confused. How can a Neil Blomkamp movie be funny? From the trailers we got the vibe of a very serious science fiction tear-jerker of which Blomkamp is notorious for. The trailer also branded it among the geek community as Short Circuit meets Robocop. This is not too far from the truth, but it is only the basis of the idea and what we are treated to is a crazy joy ride that combines all the elements of Blomkamp's filmography used to create his latest film.
The opening minute is straight up District 9-style with interviews from people talking about the events we are about to see months after they happen. We are then introduced to futuristic Johburg as crime has gone down thanks to super scientist Deon, Dev Patel of Slumdog Millionaire, has created the ultimate robot police force. He is the pride and joy of his company as his robots are praised by the police force and military to the disdain of his fellow designer, ex military Vincent Moore played by Hugh Jackman. Moore's robot is human piloted and we are shown why throughout the film. Moore is a god fearing military man with anger issues who likes to build giant ED-209 robots called the Moose. We are also treated to the band Die Antewoord playing South African gangsters who owe the biggest gangster in South Africa millions of dollars. The two playing themselves in a weird sense, Ninja and Yolandi decide that if they are going to pull off the biggest heist to pay back the money they owe, they have to find they guy who built the robot police force to turn them off. Deon against the wishes of company head Michelle, sci-fi fave Sigourney Weaver, decides after perfecting his life long dream of creating complete artificial intelligence takes a broken down robot that has been damaged in battle as well as the "master key" for then robots and is heading home to complete his experiment when he is captured by Ninja and Yolandi. Deon reveals there is nothing her can do to turn off the robots but the gangsters discover the parts Deon stole for his latest experiment. At their derelict home Deon is forced to activate Chappie with the Master Key he stole form the company and bring his newborn to life in the slums of Johburg. Chappie is then activated and left in the hands of the gangsters as Deon's life is threatened if he tries to teach Chappie or see him. Ninja's goal is to turn Chappie into a hardcore gangster to help them pull off their heist. Deon leaves imprinting upon Chappie that crime is wrong and to always be good. Chappie is then left in the hands of the gangsters to learn all the wrong things. Leading up to a total destructive misunderstanding of chaos for the end of the movie, where of course we see the sadistic Moore tearing through gangsters trying to take out the "Unholy" Chappie in his giant Moose robot. Complete with gratuitous Blomkamp bloody action!
The comedy comes from Chappie learning from the South African Gangsters. They teach him to swear and be "hard" which amounts to Chappie learning to say F#*k Mother at people a lot as well as stab people, which is to make them go to sleep because Chappie wants to be good and not kill people. They of course teach him to gangster walk, hold a gat and all the different horribly gangster things you could think of. This heavily reminded me of the scene in Short Circuit 2 where Johnny Five hung out with the cholo gang for a bit and came back calling people vato and saying he'd kick people's balls into outer space, but in Chappie its done to a much more funnier and adult degree. Chappie at one point even jumps out to fight the Moose and you know he's a badass mofo when he has a giant chain hanging from his neck that glimmers in gold the word, "hussler" Chappie gets straight up decked out and decaled like the low rider from hell! I've heard a lot of complaints about Die Antewoord's performance, but as someone who has no love for their type of music or any fandom for them, I thought they were spot on in their performance and what they had to bring to the table was perfect for the film. They were the chaotic environment and horrendous mommy and daddy they needed to be to mold Chappie into what he became in the end of the film, but Chappie being the childlike AI he is still loves them. Hugh Jackman is the perfect one-dimensional villain, which Blomkamp gives subtle nuances for you to notice throughout the film to show how crazy and militaristic he is. My favorite being the fact that in the bathroom of their office he has a taped off square of bathroom product that is labeled his and no one is to touch. When a guy has a section of bathroom quarantined off as his you know he's Nucking Futs.
The shimmering gold to any Blomkamp films is Sharlto Copley. Here he plays Chappie and in my mind has gone Andy Serkis level awesome. He uses the perfect toddler voice for the character as well as brings certain inflections to every sentence Chappie says, emoting fear, triumph, excitement and anger all the while you feel as if you are listening to a toddler with amazing comprehension skills. That's what the role called for. I will say Chappie's face not having anyway to emote in any capacity did worry me for a bit but the voice work emotes everything beautifully and you really care and feel for the character thanks to it. Speaking to Blomkamp's amazing ability to craft awesome CGI creatures, the movements of Chappie are amazing. Half the time Chappie is moving he moves much like a child, wobbling with fear and moving with each step like a fall that they aren't sure they are going to land. Each step has weight and the robots movements are pretty flawless and fluid moving faster than a normal human thanks to their augmented abilities. The CGI work is so good you believe those movements and that the creature is actually there. This is coming form a guy who can complain for hours on end about Universal covering up the practical FX in the Thing Prequel with CGI, so to hear me give praise to any CGI is pretty big.
Like Blomkamp's other films the tones and visuals of Chappie are quite dreary and dry with lots desert like terrain and dilapidated buildings but we are also treated to much nicer city scapes in this film where most of the crime takes place, which is where you'll get some of the Robocop comparisons, but Blomkamp is filming his home and showing us some of the horrors that can take place there. Another technique Blomkamp brings to the table is he uses the same visuals for Chappie's heads up display as he did for the marines in the Halo shorts, which I quite enjoyed seeing on the big screen.
My only real gripe about the film is Ninja and Yolandi are characters in the universe but they are constantly wearing Die Antewoord merchandise while using their real names, so it makes you wonder are they supposed to be Die Antewoord in the film or are they pulling a Kevin Smith where it's like Ben Affleck can be Holden Mcneil in the movie as well as Ben Affleck? I'm going to go with the latter. Blomkamp's overall voice I feel after seeing his sci-fi trilogy is human's are filth and need to evolve. The ending of this movie and District 9 especially give you the vibe, "I hate humans." I can't really blame the guy with him growing up in one of the most dangerous places in the world though. I feel the message really is we can all be better and more understanding of the unknown. Gives you a bit to think about like his other films, but doesn't overtly beat you over the head with it. If you're a fan of good sci-fi this is a fun night for you, if you are an unapologetic Blomkamp fan then this flick will be a tearjerker for you!