It’s impossible to watch Chappie and not have some deja-vu from films like Short Circuit and RoboCop, which is a good thing. The 80s and early-90s nostalgia is something at the heart of Neill Blomkamp’s third film, but instead of making a straight forward action or drama-comedy film, Blomkamp went for something that see-saws between genres.
And this is Chappie’s biggest strength and most notable flaw. The movie’s light-hearted and offbeat comedic moments make you connect and relate to the robotic character of Chappie, but at the same time, it pushes the boundaries of begging for your suspension of disbelief by presenting some of the most over-the-top and ridiculous characters that would look out of place even in a C-grade video game.
The casting of Yolandi Visser and Ninja from the popular South African group Die Antwoord was something that worried fans since its announcement, and it seems like final product is something that is going to split receptions down the middle. There are times where they lend to the comedic and tense portions of the film, but it becomes apparent very quickly that their acting prowess is not up to scratch to that of the rest of the cast.
Speaking of which, Hugh Jackman, playing an angry Aussie hell-bent of serving revenge to Dev Patel’s character Deon, is convincing and takes the intensity dial up in every scene. His transition from disgruntled co-worker to hostile baddie skips a few steps, but he does provide a convincing antagonist in a movie filled with throwaway characters.
Chappie’s real focus is obviously its titular character, played excellently by District 9’s Sharlto Copely. Copely puts on a terrific motion capture performance and his early interactions with the cast are some of the most intriguing parts of the 2-hour experience. There are some great humourous parts that only Copely could deliver so sincerely, but that said, the novelty of his over-exaggerated accent and mannerisms do wear a little thin as the film goes on.
Due to this, it’s hard to describe the tone of the movie as it doesn’t favour one particular “feel” for very long, and some of the lighter scenes dabble in some dark and violent themes, so it’s pretty hard to know whether to laugh or cringe – take that as a positive or negative depending on your stance.
As for the standout bits – when the action hits, it hits hard. Blomkamp has really come into his own regarding epic set-pieces, as was evident in Elysium. The showdowns and fight scenes in the film shine bright, and the incredible use of CGI with real-life performances look natural and believable.
Chappie is a movie I wanted to love so much, and to an extent, I do, but it’s hard to ignore some of the more absurd elements in the film which remind you that you are in fact watching a movie. It’s a successful grounded sci-fi experience that fans of Blomkamp’s style will love, and just for the breathtaking design in the movie, it’s hard not to recommend it on that alone.