Chappie is for the most part, an entertaining, action-heavy and comedically twisted romp into the artificial intelligence sub-genre of science fiction.
In what appears to be the near-future, the South African government have developed a police force of robot officers. The autonomous machines have brought crime down to a minimum in what previously looked like a war-zone in the streets.
The robots’ inventor Deon (Dev Patel) has taken his invention a step further by developing an AI that can mimic and enhance human consciousness – basically a robot that can learn, think and feel like a human does. Deon is denied the chance to apply his technology to the robot army, but does manage to plug it in to one written-off robot, who later becomes Chappie (voiced by Sharlto Copley).
Chappie and Deon are kidnapped by a group of street thugs led by Ninja and Yo-Landi Visser (the South African rap duo who play themselves in their on-stage personas). It is they who teach Chappie to talk and think like a thug in order to help them with their criminal agenda. Back at the robot manufacturing plant, Deon’s robot-creating rival Vincent (Hugh Jackman) will do anything to try and get his personal machine (think of a tank on legs) out on the streets to protect and serve.
The journey of Chappie becoming human (so to speak) is both humorous and sad. It’s funny to see him learn South African street jive but sad to see what he confronts when he is sent out on the streets on his own. The film is full of moments like these that play with your emotions, but unfortunately the pacing is just off. The film’s narrative is off balance when it comes to building characters, delivering action set pieces and asking the bigger questions, though thankfully it is engaging from start to finish.
The acting is on the ball, especially on the parts of Ninja and Yo-Landi Visser who have a huge role in the film. Considering they are not actors and are basically playing the characters they portray in their music videos, they manage to pull it off, which comes at a huge directorial risk on Neil Blomkamps part. Blomkamp stalwart Sharlto Copley is excellent as Chappie as he provides both the voice and movement for the robot. Dev Patel plays his role quite well but the biggest standout is Hugh Jackman in the role of the hilarious and villainous Vincent.
There are bigger themes at play in Chappie, such as the ethical dilemma of man playing God by bringing human-like artificial intelligence to machines. This has been covered (and more greatly explored) in many science fiction films that have come before it, which is where the film’s biggest fault lies. Such themes really only play second fiddle to loud explosions and Chappie’s humorous coming of age story. Thankfully, the writers have done just enough to make the characters in the film resonate with the audience.
Once broken down, you can find several faults in Blomkamp’s Chappie, but as a purely entertaining sci-fi film with a twist, Chappie succeeds on all fronts.
Hugh Jackman admitted that he has had trouble keeping up with phrases from his home country during a GMA appearance. “I found myself googling Australian slang”, he said.