It is some feat that Neill Blomkamp has managed to create a modern, lovable robot that will rival even the droids from Star Wars. Chappie is adorable, cute and will have audiences both laughing and crying in equal measure as he is fully realised in all his glory on-screen. It is just a shame that the movie doesn’t always match the initial charm it gives it’s central character.
To begin with, it does a very fine job. You get the feeling that Blomkamp is rushing to get to the key sequences and introduce his character, as a quick few news clips and a very stark introduction to our “near-future” Johannesburg gives us all the information we will need. We are introduced to all our key characters, from the reliable heavyweights, like Hugh Jackman and Sigourney Weaver, to the relative newcomers, played by Rap duo Die Antwoord.
In fact, these two are the surprise package of the movie. They have some of the film’s heaviest lifting in terms of story and are thrown into the film’s action from the beginning. They play anti-heroes and the characters that Chappie interacts with the most. Ninja is the initial “villain,” treating Chappie badly and doing some of the films more despicable things. This is acted very well from the rapper and you wouldn’t have guessed that this was one of his first major acting roles.
Even more impressive is his bandmate, Yolandi. She plays the more sympathetic character and mothers the robot. She has even more to showcase and does so very well, offering one of the better performances of the movie. Dev Patel also shines, demonstrating that he has a bright future in many a different genre of movies.
Chappie steals the show though and it is all down to the great motion-capture performance from Sharlto Copley. He has a full range of styles he has to showcase, from the early-childlike Chappie to the more seasoned, heroic robot that the film ends with. Considering we can’t see any real emotion on the robot, the performance comes almost completely from Copley’s actions and is done perfectly. We get fear and panic, unbridled-joy and in some of the best parts of the movie, “gangster!”
This is when the film is at it’s best; when Chappie is “learning.” Each new discovery brings you closer to the robot’s character and endears you towards him further. It also has a great effect on those around him, particularly Yolandi. It also means that when he does get in any sort of danger and is treated badly, you are affected by it so much more. He is helpless and defenceless at times and you feel his panic and fear – and subsequently want him to be ok.
It is just a shame that Chappie is forced to “grow-up.” Every film needs a story and in the case of science-fiction, this story needs a villain. The main tale is pretty generic really but presented in a very cool way. The robots are well designed and realised well on-screen. The sequences involving the police robots in the first act are very impressive and offer a lot of other cool ideas and directions that this movie could have taken.
The same can be said for the end of the film too. As obvious as it is, the final act is very well executed and Hugh Jackman makes for a very believable villain. Its is just a shame that the film offers no real surprises by this point and begins to lose it’s charm and originality slightly. Chappie becomes an action-hero and almost unbelievable and indestructible, making you feel more for the vulnerable, support characters around him.
It also doesn’t help that Blomkamp is clearly a Robocop fan. The final act felt like I was watching a light rip-off from that franchise and the “Moose” robot bares more than a passing resemblance to the villain from a more recent reboot about a robotic cop. It meant the shine was taken off the magic slightly and the film began to lose some of the appeal that it started with when it wasn’t so concerned with making Chappie a superhero.
Overall, Chappie is a great movie, with the titular robot stealing all the scenes and garnering all the praise. He is a new, delightful character which will have your sympathies, love and adulation from the moment he appears on-screen. The support does a good job, particularly the fairly inexperienced Die Antwoord but this is purely Sharlto Copley’s movie, who brings the robot to life brilliantly. It is just a shame that the ending felt generic and a little too familiar.
Rating – 4
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)