CHAPPIE is a sci-fi action set in the near future in Johannesburg where the police have been successfully replaced by mechanised robots. Directed by Neill Blomkamp, Chappie includes an A-list cast of Hugh Jackman and Sigourney Weaver, as well as rap-rave duo Die Antwoord, Ninja and Yo-Landi Vi$$er, who add to the film’s Jozi cred, though their acting ‘talents’ leave a lot to be desired.
The film makes extensive use of robotics and plenty of South African stereotypes to show that a robot is, in the words of Yo-Landi, “more than just a machine!”
One of these robots, Chappie (voiced by South African Sharlto Copley), ends up in the hands of gangsters Ninja (Watkin Tudor Jones), Yo-Landi ( Yolandi Visser) and Amerika (Jose Pablo Cantillo). He is reprogrammed and given the ability to feel, think and even paint by himself. Chappie’s humanisation is resisted by those who believe robots should remain machines and so the plot unfolds.
Unlike Blomkamp’s previous sci-fi movie, District 9, Chappie is not as successful in creating a sympathetic audience after showing a sulky and morally conflicted wannabe gangster robot who believes that stabbing someone puts them to sleep.
The plot seems flimsy at times, with Deon (Patel) finding inspiration from a cat poster on the wall of his cubicle. Many issues raised in the film go largely unexplored such as the moral values of artificial intelligence versus those of human beings. Unfortunately the movies’ tagline, “Humanity’s Last Hope Isn’t Human”, is misleading as Chappie is more about questioning what it is to be human rather than saving any humans.
The film draws on stock-types in its portrayals of Hippo who is a drug and arms dealer, played by South African actor Brandon Auret, in dreads, a dark tan and using a strange African accent.
The protagonist, Chappie, is another such case after he spontaneously develops an unexplained Cape Flats accent despite never coming into contact with anyone of that region.
However, the special effects are convincing and live up to the high standards of a big-budget Hollywood blockbuster.
The film is a slow starter that gains momentum with an explosive finale which leaves the audience wondering if there will be a sequel. It is an appealing film to watch, even if it is just to see how Blomkamp attempts to juggle Die Antwoord’s counter-culture with sci-fi robots in a South African context. At the very least there’s nothing like supporting South African filmmakers by watching a familiar skyline and seeing local talent on the big screen.
The film is much like its namesake, Chappies chewing gum. It is intriguing with its attention-grabbing wrapper and bright colours but eventually the flavour quickly wears off leaving the audience with a bland taste in their mouths.