********* 7 out of 10 *********
Director: Neill Blomkamp
Actors: Sharlto Copley, Dev Patel, Hugh Jackman, Yolandi Visser
Artificial intelligence, its future and its shortcomings, has been a pet project in the sci-fi genre for movie makers for many years. Robots that can think, a bane or a boon? Steven Spielberg took it up more than a decade back in A.I. Artificial Intelligence, we saw the robots go crazy in I, Robot, and lately the idea of allowing a human’s consciousness to survive in chips and wires was thrown at us in Transcendence. So when Neill Blomkamp dwells into a story of a robot developing its own consciousness, he isn’t treading on something new; but what Blomkamp gives is a fantastic mix of science-fiction and drama in Chappie, a movie with a beating heart underneath a hard exterior, a movie which is conscious of the topic it is dealing with and the direction in which it is going. Chappie isn’t a run-of-the-mill sci-fi flick, but a well-thought out and neatly executed movie by a director who is making a name for himself in this genre.
Chappie shows us a near future where mechanized robots, manufactured by the company Tetravaal, assist the local police force in controlling crime in Johannesburg, South Africa. The inventor of the robots, Deon Wilson (Dev Patel), receives high praise for his work, much to the chagrin of fellow engineer Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman) whose costlier and heavier robots find no takers. Wilson though is working on a bigger project, to instill consciousness in the robots so that they can think and feel like a human. At the same time, a group of local gangsters are planning on a major crime so as to pay off a big gangster. This group is soon going to cross paths with Deon Wilson, and amidst all the chaos will emerge Chappie (Sharlto Copley), a new breed of robot who has a lot to learn about this world and the humans that reside in it.
Director Neill Blomkamp returns to his native country of South Africa for Chappie, bringing back images of his debut movie District 9 which had given his career a big boost. Just as in District 9, where he had made the sci-fi element, the alien, the hero of the story by giving it a humane touch, Blomkamp repeats that formula in Chappie. Now it is a robot, a thinking robot, which finds itself learning new and strange things about humans, which makes it as endearing as a child. The screenplay by the husband-wife duo of Neill Blomkamp and Teri Tatchell is quite wonderful, filled with drama and emotions, and also heavy in its sci-fi elements. This is a very touch act to balance, which the duo has done as well as it had previously with District 9.
On thing is clear, Neill Blomkamp definitely knows how to shoot an action sequence, even though his movies are never termed as action movies. Chappie has a battle between the police force and the gangsters quite early on, which will get your hearts thumping, and then sporadically few more action sequences burst on screen which keep the tension of the movie alive. Blomkamp weaves this tension with emotional drama during the course of the movie, which will get you more involved as a member of the audience. He paints his characters as an artist, giving each one a layer or two more than what you initially expect. He creates relationships and bonds between them, a chemistry which makes it a story as much about humanity as about robots. Somewhere along the line, he questions the human race, our deeds and our ideas, through the central character of Chappie, either directly in words or subtly through the actions of the movie’s characters. These are valid questions indeed, worth pondering upon. Amidst this is a fantastic score by Hans Zimmer which elevates the movie’s theme further. The visual effects are spectacular too, and definitely make the movie look more expensive than a mere $50 million movie.
The real hero of the film is of course the robot Chappie. Sharlto Copley has voiced the character and enacted the movements through motion capture. Copley has given this robot a very human touch, made it endearing, made it worth knowing. The moments when Chappie gets all excited when he sees something new are something akin to how a child would behave, which makes us connect with Chappie more. Enjoying a lot of screen time along with Chappie are the South Africans, Watkin Tudor Jones aka Ninja and Anri du Toit aka Yolandi Visser, who are in fact part of the South African rap-rave group Die Antwoord. It is difficult to realise that they aren’t acting professionals, for both have done a swell job in Chappie, along with Jose Pablo Cantillo, in playing the gangsters who stick around with Chappie. Their characters have the tough look about them, but sometime or the other, a softness appears, which gives them a complexity that only great directors manage to bring out. Are they good folks or are they bad, it is something you have to decide as you watch the movie, but as far as their acting is concerned, they have been more than just good.
And then we come to Hugh Jackman. Well, hats off to this fellow. In the prime of his career, he takes on an off-beat role with a negative shade which isn’t even the real focus of the movie. How many big stars experiment in this fashion? Hugh Jackman is always a joy to watch, and no exceptions here, and it is even more fun to see him play a big Australian fellow who keeps saying ‘Mate’ and does not take out his claws for a change. Dev Patel, as the robot’s inventor, looks and plays the part of a nerd effectively. There is an uncertainty about him when dealing with things he isn’t used to, but an assured touch when handling the subjects he is an expert on. Sigourney Weaver plays the CEO of the company manufacturing the robots, though it is quite a limited and pointless role for a renowned actor, quite similar to her forgettable presence in Exodus: Gods and Kings last year. The new Alien movie couldn’t come any sooner!
Overall, Chappie is a true science-fiction in terms of the concepts and ideas it is dealing with, but it elevates itself by not forgetting the human angle. It has been well-written, packaged and delivered, and is a must-watch for all those who want to be on this ride with Neill Blomkamp who seems to be headed to become an “authoritative figure” in the sci-fi genre soon. Some will complain that it could have been better, though wouldn’t that be true for most of the movies we watch, even the really good ones? At the end of the day, what one should ask is, did I get my money’s worth; did I want to see this movie till the end; did I feel something stir within me as the movie moved on? The answer would be ‘Yes’ for Chappie.