Chappie Review: He’s a Soul Man

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Chappie tries to be many, many things, and succeeds at a surprising number of them.

Because it’s a Neill Blomkamp film, there are no punches pulled while the points are made, either.

It’s near future Johannesburg, South Africa, where urban crime has escalated so much that the police force have implemented a desperate solution: they’ve purchased robots from Tetravaal, “scouts” capable of following simple protocols and orders under supervision. They’re easily repaired, virtually indestructible, and designed to be unhackable.

The result: crime rates are down and Tetravaal profits are up. Deon Wilson, who designed the scouts, is the company’s golden boy. But not everyone is thrilled with the current situation–within the company, Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman) has developed a competing product, the “moose,” a far more powerful robot guided by a linked human operator–but his funding keeps getting cut in favor of the scouts.

Meanwhile, on the bad side of town, crime continues, stifled somewhat by the scouts. Yo-Landi and Ninja (Yolandi Visser and Ninja of rap band Die Antwoord) are desperate to make a big score, to get scarier criminal Hippo (Brandon Auret) off their backs.

But Deon isn’t satisfied. Fueled by Red Bull, he’s written an artificial intelligence program. He desperately wants to test it–and where else but in a scout?–but the CEO of Tetravaal (Sigourney Weaver in a role that doesn’t begin to utilize her many talents) doesn’t see the potential. The status quo is just fine, thank you very much.

So begins a whirlwind of activity as Deon borrows a scrapped scout to test his program, while he in turn is kidnapped by Ninja and Yo-Landi. His new creation, dubbed Chappie, is a child, who needs to be taught how to speak and act and behave. Everyone is under short deadlines and undesirable conditions.

Chappie-Dog-Movie-2015-WallpaperSharlto Copley’s stunning performance as Chappie is the standout here, from his childish beginnings to his adult moments (his physical performance was used as the basis for the character’s animation, and he voiced the character as well). He gives the movie its heart and artistic soul.

Thematically, it starts with the strong contrast between the corporate haves and the have-nots. This is side by side with nurturing creativity, doing what you need to do to feel good about yourself, and following your dreams. It even touches on the value or lack thereof of traditional gender roles.

There’s a ton packed in here. Maybe too much. It’s an emotional gut punch and Blomkamp takes it unexpected places. It’s a really fresh take on a Pinocchio tale with an unpredictable ending.

There’s also guns and explosions and car chases and generally things going boom. And Hugh Jackman brings the crazy (well, someone had to and for a change it wasn’t Sharlto Copley).

Recommended for science fiction fans, robot lovers, and particularly fans of Hugh Jackson, Sharlto Copley, Dev Patel, or all three.

Trigger warning: this film also deals with the do’s and don’t’s of child-rearing and includes scenes of abuse that will make you cry.