Rated R for violence, language and brief nudity.
Check theatres for show times.
If you like robots, mayhem, bombed out warehouses, and South African rave artists, you will like Chappie. If not, not. Despite all the savage criticism, I liked the darn thing. Yes, it’s a big mess, but whoever said adventures were supposed to be neat as paint-by-number? There’s a certain chaotic logic and uncapped enthusiasm to this film that makes it a lot more enjoyable than films that are choreographed to death.
The director is South African Neill Blonkamp, most known for his (wild and messy) debut, District 9 in 2009, about extraterrestrials trapped in Johannesburg slums. It was startlingly original, rough around the edges, and grabbed a lot of attention. There’ something to admire about a director who takes a lot of risks. Yep sometimes you lose, but other times you win. And sometimes, you do both in the same film. That’s Chappie.
It’s 2016 in Johannesburg. Robot cops have replaced human law enforcement officers—the crime rate has dropped dramatically, and lots of other cities want to get the new cops. At the headquarters of the robots’ manufacturer, Sigourney Weaver runs a tight ship, cutting safety measures as well as creativity. Hugh Jackman, a soldier with a really bad haircut, is dying from frustration because he wants to blast everybody with his huge, 3-story-tall soldier robot resting idly in the warehouse.
Meanwhile, a few office cubes away, the brilliant, idealistic creator of the robot cops is eating his heart out with desire to create a robot with consciousness. He saves a shot-up cop unit from destruction and lo and behold, after years of trying, he creates a robot who can think and feel. This is Chappie, voiced by District 9 star Sharlto Copley and marvelously animated by robot geeks. He’s just got baby consciousness now, so it takes a while for him to think clearly (something he never does exactly) and to put sentences together (which he does with hilarity).
Unfortunately the Mad Max criminals on the loose in the city’s cavernous graffiti-decorated warehouses are on the warpath with one another over drug money. One stupid trio is more interesting than the other trash. This is nasty Ninja and his teeny blond girlfriend Yolandi, who happen to be a South African rap rave group called Die Antwoord (who wrote a lot of the film’s songs). Perhaps because of their incredible hair cuts and wild tattoos and moronic behavior, I found these two characters to be pretty watchable. Their pal Amerika (played by American Jose Pablo Cantillo) tries to play peacemaker to the other two.
The little blond gal Yolandi becomes Mommy to Chappie–she reads bedtime stories to him, gives him games to enhance his creativity, and does her best to nurture a good little robot. Bad Daddy Ninja, however, is untouched by Chappie’s innocence. He quickly turns the eager learner into a gangster, complete with robot swagger and gold chains hanging from his metal shoulders. It’s pretty hilarious.
Chappie is such a fascinating character (disregard all the vitriol in the reviews) that when he gets beat up by bad guys, you can actually feel your heart hurting.
All kinds of sad things happen to Chappie, poor baby robot, but he is a brave hero and lives to tell his tale.
Marcianne Miller is a member of SEFCA (Southeast Film Critics Assn.) and NCFCA (North Carolina Film Critics Assn.) Email her at email@example.com.