Chappie (2015) is more a fun world to visit rather than a story to enjoy. Both with District 9 (2009) and Elysium (2013), Neill Blomkamp has demonstrated an incredible ability to create sun-baked science fiction universes. Even the third time around, back in his native South Africa, these dry, earth-tone vistas are an exciting and welcome break from the Bladerunner-esque cityscapes usually littering tech noir. This, along with Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), may launch a new generation of filmmakers that turn this backdrop into sci-fi pastiche. For now, though, I savor the uniqueness.
What I can't look past, however, are South Africa's musical export, Die Antwoord. If Neill would have cast Ninja and Yolandi as minor gang members for a cameo appearance we could have appreciated the show of hometown pride. But, instead, they're asked to advance challenging, philosophical topics - man verses machine, nature verses nurture, the true nature of man, the existence of souls, and (as if they didn't already have enough of a challenge) where we go after we die. I can't say they're bad actors; they don't suffer from the "dead eye syndrome" that is the usual tell-tale sign. I think it is worse than that: I think they were just being themselves. That is, they aren't articulate or engaging enough for the complexity of these scenes.
A lot of the "heft" this movie might have had, subsequently, never lands. I wanted to see more of Hugh Jackman, and his character's fundamentalist Christian beliefs. His criticism of AI and the conceit that Chappie had gained a soul could have been thought provoking stuff. But we never got that intellectual push-n-pull before it was boom-boom gansta time. To be clear, it is fun, enjoyable gansta time. But it is cotton candy compared to the rich, layered dessert hinted at.
On a final note, Sigourney Weaver is criminally underused. Her only purpose seems to be to deliver a few terse lines while glowering. Even Jodie Foster had more to do when staring daggers at Matt Damon's Elysium character. But hey, if her work with Neill on this resulted in the studio committing to making Alien 5, then whatever.
There is a scene, early on, where the thugs have stumbled into a firefight. As bullets fly, Yolandi pulls out neon pink automatic rifle and strikes a pose in gratuitous slow motion. It looks cool. It is also completely ridiculous. If you can be ok with that dichotomy, you'll enjoy Chappie.
See it if: you want to be engrossed in the eerie spectacle of Ninja's tattoos out-acting Ninja, enjoy unique world building, or are ok having all the feelz for a swaggering, curse-dropping robot.
Seen on: a big, old-fashioned theater screen.