‘Chappie’ is a fun piece of sci-fi entertainment

By Todd Perkins

3.5 stars

Neill Blomkamp is one of the most promising directors to come into the spotlight in the past decade. His film “District 9” surpassed every obstacle and expectation set before its release in August 2009, and Blomkamp made an epic crowd pleaser that riveted audiences and critics alike for its originality and audaciousness. Unfortunately, his follow-up film “Elysium” lacked the ingenuity and intelligence of his previous effort and suffered despite its inflated budget and grand-scale marketing, making his claim to fame risk being labeled a one-hit-wonder. Blomkamp’s latest film “Chappie” is smaller in scale than “Elysium”, but whether it retains the inventiveness and heart of “District 9” is another matter altogether.

Sharlto Copley stars as the title character, a robot given the gift of consciousness from his maker Deon Wilson (Dev Patel), the inventor of police droids who operate as the main form of law enforcement in a not-too-distant future Johannesburg. Deon wishes to keep Chappie a secret, but things take an unexpected turn when one of his rivals Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman) discovers his latest invention and soon makes plans of his own regarding Chappie.

Blomkamp is more than a competent director; he is a master storyteller who creates films that only he would want to make. His knack for visuals, production design, and effects rivals any other top notch filmmaker working today. His weakness comes from poor pacing, clunky writing, and an abundance of symbolism so obvious that even a St. Bernard would deem it heavy handed. There is one scene in particular, where Chappie angrily questions Deon about why his maker would grant him existence in a body that can only sustain battery life for a short period of time, that is so on the nose that any sense of subtlety sustained throughout the work before that moment completely disappears.

Even though there are numerous flaws, this is an incredibly entertaining movie that knows how to work an audience. The action is well handled, the technical aspects are all superb, and the characters are all relatable no matter how extreme they may be. Patel and Jackman are terrific as two engineers with opposite priorities. Patel acts as a caring parental figure without becoming a kind-hearted chump that viewers often see in these kind of films, and Jackman plays an antagonist without ever becoming a one-note villain. Copley, who starred in “District 9” and was by far the best thing about “Elysium”, manages to turn in another stellar performance as Chappie, a robot who transitions from a childlike figure to a complicated being with an awareness of morality and its own mortality. While he may not be a household name as of yet, Copley has the versatility, talent, and charisma to become one of the finest and most enjoyable actors of our time.

While this film is far from perfect, it is a work that dares to take chances and be different. It treats its audience seriously while never being afraid of being silly, obscene, or to embrace violence when necessary. There are many who will not care for Blomkamp’s film, but “Chappie” is a fun, thrilling, and even moving piece of entertainment that fans of “District 9” will surely recognize as coming from an artist that actually cares.