DIR: Neill Blomkamp • WRI: Neill Blomkamp, Terri Tatchell • PRO: Simon Kinberg • DOP: Trent Opaloch • ED: Julian Clarke, Mark Goldblatt • MUS: Hans Zimmer • DES: Jules Cook • CAST: Hugh Jackman, Sigourney Weaver, Sharlto Copley
There is a billboard near my apartment that is resplendent with the latest didactic advertising statement from a particular sports brand that ticks all the boxes which warns passers-by that “There Will Be Haters”. Chappie, Neill Blomkamp’s third film proper since he burst out the gap with District 9 in 2009, would do well to heed the advice of the above quoted sports-brand slogan. Chappie is such a well-meaning, begrudger-effing parable that one can almost hear the hum of cynicism from the exit-doors of so many screening rooms nationwide. It’s oddly ironic that the advice of such a behemoth as that which adorns the billboard I pass daily should ring relevant for a film such as Chappie, because Sony-funding or no, any original science-fiction film with as overwhelmingly positive outlook as this will end up the little guy in any fight it comes up against.
The film begins as it does not mean to go on, with the same kind of faux-documentary footage that commenced Blomkamp’s debut. This totals twenty seconds at most, before we are blasted into a neon-painted impression of a Johannesburg policed by AI droids in the near future. The home-turf feels immediately welcoming to the director’s lens, slotting comfortably into this grimy production design which sings hymns to Mad Max and William Gibson in equal measure.
Neill Blomkamp has recently stated in an interview that the lyrical tableaux of South African rap duo Die Antwoord, whose videos and music were the happy discovery of this writer in the run-up to the film’s release, were directly the inspiration for the film and so it is entirely appropriate that they appear on screen, moments after machine-gun cackles set the picture in motion, and spark the plot to life.
The film’s central spiel involves Dev Patel’s Dion, designer of the police droids central to the plot, and his quest to create an AI with a consciousness, and Die Antwoord (perhaps playing themselves) kidnapping Dion and compelling him to leave the newly born AI in their care that they might teach him to perform heists in order to pay back a local crime-lord they owe. Taken at face value the plot is every bit as mundane as it might seem, but as a vehicle for the genius creation of Chappie, portrayed via motion capture by Sharto Copley, whose performance ought to give Andy Serkis a run for his money as mo-cap king. Put shortly, the simple plot serves as a perfect vehicle to birth Chappie, who’s such a gem he’s worth a thousand stories.
Chappie is at once, gorgeously created, photo-realistic, charming and hilarious. Having blubbered like a baby at last year’s Paddington, from which Chappie is not a million miles, theme-wise, I fully expected the mother-son relationship built up between the robot and his “Mummy” to end in tears but just as it is using the relationships it forms to craft exquisite themes of violence thriving in conditions of social-marginalisation as well as (once again) the purest of ideas that who we are on the inside is all that really matters, it is kicking ass and taking names in equal portions, with Hugh Jackman’s pistol-whipping Aussie antagonist chewing up more scenery than he knows what to do with and clearly having fun while he’s at it. The violence itself is bloody and horrific, as it should be. Violence is often taken on carelessly, with many an implication of immediate death and nary a drop of blood, and it is refreshing to see films such as this when violence rears its ugly head it is swiftly followed by a murky rush of claret to messily stain with contrast against the bubble-gum highlighter colour-pallet Blomkamp has opted for.
The only criticism I can level at this film, from the heart, is the occasionally hammy dialogue, which, honestly, considering what the film sets out to do, is no criticism at all. Every shot seems fairly judged, Hans Zimmer’s score dispenses tension and warmth as they are called for but does not over-saturate the visuals, an issue I see as going hand-in-hand recently with the more hollow fare of blockbuster. Hollowness is an attribute that was readily levelled at Blomkamp’s second feature, the po-faced, underwhelming Elysium, and for good reason; it severely let down the legions of cinema-goers who’d heralded the South African as a visionary saviour of original sci-fi on the back of his debut. Those fans may now rest easy again as Chappie cancels this bum-note completely and moves to directly build on the street-cred of District 9. We’ll take plenty more like this Neill, this’ll do grand.
15A (See IFCO for details)
Chappie is released 6th March 2015