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Chappie Review


Chappie, the latest sci-fi story from Neill Blomkamp, is something of an oddity. At times straight up action movie, and at times high concept morality tale, it never manages to quite nail the tone that made District 9 resonate so much with audiences and critics alike. While Blomkamp is undoubtedly a visionary when it comes to creating self contained futuristic worlds, Chappie, like Elysium, is another example of style over substance.

Set in a dusty, forlorn future where Johannesburg is occupied by a robotic police force, we meet Deon, an idealistic young tech genius who has notions about bringing his creations on the next evolutionary step. Deon's boss meanwhile just wants the status quo maintained, while his colleague Vincent has his own side project in development - a hulking battle bot called The Moose, bearing more than a little resemblance to one ED 209.

This being a cautionary tale of technology gone awry, naturally Deon decides to go ahead with his experiment, and he uploads a consciousness program into a battered police robot and Chappie is born. However, he soon falls into the hands of a pair of anarchists and the childlike robot finds himself the focus of a race to take control of his capabilities.

Chappie himself is a marvel. Angular and lithe and powerful, yet fully convincing as a gentle, sentient being, Blomkamp has created a robot that feels distinctly human while looking like nothing more than another expensive piece of tech. Motion capture and Charlto Copley have a lot to do with giving Chappie the necessary characteristics to endow him with a human touch, and it's the attention to detail that really makes him stand out as a character. There can be no real criticism of how he is brought to life; it's the surrounding cast that throw the movie off-kilter.

South African techno-pop duo Die Antwoord were a strange casting choice given they have no acting experience and truth be told it shows. They're simply not likeable, especially Ninja, a wiry wannabe gangster who wants to remake Chappie in his own image. When the pair are onscreen the movie falls flat, and loses it's quirky charm. The rest of the cast aren't particularly bad, it's more that they're underused in comparison. Hugh Jackman looks like he's having a blast hamming it up as a baddie, while Sigourney Weaver is relegated to the sidelines for the most part, another example of Blomkamp not knowing what to do with a strong female character.

When the narrative takes a backseat to the pulse pounding violence and ballsy futuristic visuals, the movie comes together. It seems that Blomkamp is most at home with showing us what he can do, rather than constructing a story where all the elements gel. Chappie is a weird, at times wonderfully so, sci fi movie that couldn't have been pulled off by any other filmmaker working today. It's a shame that that the whole endeavor boils down to style over substance, but with style this visually arresting and captivating, that in itself is no mean feat.

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The Movie Bit: Chappie Review
Chappie Review
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