REVIEWS

Review: Neill Blomkamp's 'Chappie' is Adorable, Original Sci-Fi Fun

by
March 5, 2015

Chappie Review

"I think, therefore I am Chappie." Third times the charm. South African sci-fi director Neill Blomkamp is back with his third feature, titled Chappie, following District 9 and Elysium over the past six years. While he is certainly adept at building one-of-a-kind science fiction worlds, and crazy characters to inhabit them, the stories in each of his three movies have been completely different and often times, unfortunately, the weakest link. Chappie, while on one hand a violent R-rated action film, sorta seems like RoboCop-for-kids designed for teens to go crazy over whenever they finally somehow see it. It's a lot more fun, totally wild at times, occasionally absurd, and much more charming than I was expecting. And I mean that in a good way.

Blomkamp is a master at envisioning original sci-fi concepts, and creating all of the elements that are a part of that world. The way he's able to come up with a social setting that is one-of-a-kind, integrate characters that feel like they belong in that world, and give us an engaging story (with some cool action beats) within that world, is his expertise. With Chappie, set again in Johannesburg, South Africa we get a world based around robots and AI not as much aliens this time. However, it's not like Elysium. In this story, which riffs on the recent RoboCop remake big time, instead of going right for big bad robots turning evil, he twists it and gives us successful robots who are manipulated. But, technically speaking, the robots are the good guys.

This is where the sweeter side of the story comes into play. Dev Patel plays Deon, the engineer/designer responsible for coming up with the police "Scout" robot designs. Within the confines of his corporate life, he decides to go rogue and on his own test his self-made artificial intelligence software on a defective robot. It works. It works beautifully. This is the best part of the film – a mesmerizing mash-up of themes exploring: how our surroundings and what we're exposed to "growing up" shapes who we become; and the concept of being sentient and whether robots have a soul, despite being entirely made out of machine. It borrows from other sci-fi works generously, but that's what the entire genre is about: borrowing big ideas and repackaging them into an interesting story. Blomkamp does just that, addressing a number of modern societal issues.

Chappie Review

Chappie is a robot who enters this world with a clean slate. He must be "orientated" and introduced to any and everything in this world, just like a newborn baby. He learns about the world from his Mommy and Daddy, played by Yo-Landi and Ninja of the real South African rap group Die Antwoord, who steal him from Deon because they need to pull off a heist of their own. Chappie learns by watching cartoons, by being told how to act like a thug, and by watching others around him. Deon, his "maker", does have an authority over him (which presents an interesting three-way parental dynamic between Mommy, Daddy & Maker) but only limited control. Chappie has limitless potential, at least with the right nurturing. Like any young child.

Ninja and Yo-Landi, who have a major part in the film, are an acquired taste. If you can't stand rappers, if you can't stand their attitude and the way they talk and act, you're going to hate the film. They're such a central part of the plot there's just no way around it. But if you accept them for who they are, realize these people exist (for real!), and go along for the ride, it's not so bad. Yea they barely speak English, yea it's all slang, yea there's some ridiculous moments, but you know what, I had fun watching them. I got it. I almost felt Blomkamp was addressing the question of "how do gangsters exist?" What kind of world are they raised in where they believe this is the only way? Why are they taught to act like that? Chappie provides an answer.

It's an answer not everyone will like. And it's an answer that also manifests itself in the form of cartoons and childlike antics. Chappie, only a "few days old", acts like he is a frightened 6-year-old (I can hear so many critics grumbling about this choice even though the performance is brilliant). Sharlto Copley, wearing a motion-capture outfit, plays Chappie and really brings to life this character. The way he cowers, the way he jumps, and responds to others, everything about it feels so real and that's what he's playing with. Blomkamp has made yet another artificial intelligence story, but backwards – what if it was us, the humans, and not the A.I. itself, that makes the A.I. go crazy (and kill). What happens when greed gets in the way of innovation?

I was more often amused, not frustrated, by so many of the unique choices Blomkamp made, learning from his mistakes on Elysium. At one point Chappie catches the opening to a "Masters of the Universe" cartoon and mimics He-Man pulling a sword over his head (though I was hoping he'd use this move later). He acts childish, and goofy, and unlearned; he acts exactly as he should. It's the ultimate "how do you raise a robot baby?" concept, crafted so neatly into Blomkamp's one-of-a-kind sci-fi social world. He's adorable, and kind of charming, you really feel for Chappie by the end. And that, if anything, is the greatest achievement of this film: fabricating a robot character that really feels like it has more life than most critics reviewing the film.

Chappie Review

I'm not sure why so many seem to be out to hate Neill Blomkamp and his movies (Elysium was pretty bad, dumbed down too much, I'll give you that). Perhaps it's because we all have insanely inflated expectations for Blomkamp ever since District 9. Honestly, that film was an anomaly, a wholly unrepeatable creation and we should respect it but not spend every moment hoping we'll get more of exactly that whenever Blomkamp makes new movies. Compared to Jupiter Ascending, a much bigger sci-fi mess and huge waste of potential, Chappie is by far more polished and refined. It has much better execution of big, bold sci-fi concepts that I'm still amazed a movie studio even funded. And as long as you're willing to have fun, it's a very fun movie.

The best way to sum up the attitude of Chappie is by saying that Chappie is the kind of robot who would go up to RoboCop, slap that pansy in the face, and walk away after saying "what up, homie?" That's the kind of experience Blomkamp has delivered – a subversive, goofy sci-fi work giving-the-finger to other sci-fi like the RoboCop remake, Transcendence and Jupiter Ascending. Blomkamp's other homages strewn throughout are meant to make you smile (Wall-E!), but aren't a distraction. It wasn't easy, but I eventually figured out what Blomkamp was going for; only then was I able to really get into it, and enjoy it. He wanted to make the kind of sci-fi movie you show a bunch of kids and they all lose their shit over it because it's crazy awesome. It's a movie about a loveable, charming, goofy robot kid who is taught how to be a gangster and steal money.

The more I think about all Blomkamp tries to accomplish, all the big themes and sci-fi concepts in this one story, the more impressed I am with his third film. Unlike other sci-fi like Elysium and Jupiter Ascending, where I've grown less and less fond as time goes on, Chappie is on a whole other level. I can't wait to see it again. There are a few moments of sci-fi brilliance, and some rough moments to get through too, but it's a thoroughly entertaining experience and interesting one above all. And perhaps, like me, you'll discover just how lovable Chappie (even child-like) is. There's lessons to be learned, social ideas to discuss, and work to be admired in Chappie. It's not perfect, not much ever is, but it's a strong step forward for Neill Blomkamp.

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  • Brian Sleider
    Sweet, I got something to go see this weekend.
  • Chris Groves
    "original"
  • bobthesailor
    This is the only review I've seen that hasn't said Chappie was trash. Honestly I'm starting to think all the reviews on here are paid for, or created just for the purpose of getting quoted in trailers. Great, glowing reviews for this, 50 Shades and Hot Tub Time Machine 2? Seriously?
    • Yeaaaaaa right. Just because I liked a movie that others didn't, we're being paid? Also, I didn't write the 50 Shades or Hot Tub Time Machine review, different guy. I think you're just surprised it's not as negative as everyone else, but sometimes a different opinion is refreshing. But no we're definitely not being paid. Seriously back at you?
      • Angga
        Quite disappointed on how you review this film. It is not whether you enjoy the movie or (every movie is subjective i even enjoy transformers - eventhough there is no argument that it is a crappy one) but seriously you hove to put your subjectivity aside in reviewing a movie (its a review - as title of this article suggest- after all not a personal opinion). Objectively the ACTING IS BAD, the writing is very WEAK. Ninja (the father) hates Chappie 95% of the movie an in an instant willingly sacrifice himself or Chappie. How can you even consider this as a good movie? Seriously man?
        • I don't believe there is objectivity when it comes to opinions about art like movies, so I'm sorry but I won't just agree with you. Nothing is objectively bad about it, the acting is fine, the writing is probably the weakest part, but overall a minimal distraction in the complete experience of it. Ninja is one part of the parental dynamic, so even if he hates him it's balanced out with Yo-Landi and his Maker. How can you not even enjoy an interesting sci-fi movie? Seriously back at you?
          • JaxTeller
            Glad you really dug it Alex, I saw it two days ago, I love D9, I also honestly love Elysium despite its flaws, that movie really worked for me, and I loved Chappie as well. Ninja & Yolandi will definitely as you've said it kill the movie for many people, I like how Blomkamp is basically saying "f*** it" and just puts them front & center, a bold choice. I wasn't familiar with them and I really dug them, they're weird, interesting, bring their universe along with them and ultimately make the movie even more unique & different. You won't see another director doing that kind of thing, they both did a good job, especially Yolandi who was very endearing. Copley kills it, and I really think he's being underrated so far, the way he moves, the voice acting, he makes Chappie completely touching, endearing, sweet, funny, heartbreaking at times, that + the wonderful VFX work by Image Engine: top notch. Patel & Jackman are solid, Weaver has an extended cameo, I love the themes explored, and simply put, seeing Chappie coming into the world as basically a child, having to learn notions of good & evil, being confronted to the harshness of the world (that one scene where he's left to his own devices shall we say, really heartbreaking for me). I found it surprisingly emotional, moving, thought provoking stuff, the action is really solid as usual with Blomkamp, Zimmer's score is pretty awesome, and the third act got me really excited, didnt expect Neill to go there, but he did, and it is beautiful stuff. Go see the movie people, give it a shot.
          • Angga Reza
            Seriously there is objectivity in valuing art like movie. Thats why we give award to best actor, actress, cinematographers, directors. The voters are absolutely well informed and educated people. They may havr different opinions on deciding the good stuff and the best stuff. But they sure as hell can tell when they see a bad one. Genre, on the other hand, is subjective. But we can objecticely judge an actor performane, cinematography, editing etc. And chappie has none of them. As you said it yourself, the script was weak. Let me ask you what is the focus of this film? Feeling sorry for chappie? The movie definitely end with chappie having friends and live. He should be happy by that time. Chappie struggle to live among people? He is certainly having fun stealing cars and money since he does not know that it is bad. So whats the point of this movie? By the way i am not talking about Yolandi, i am talking about how the hell ninja could love chappie only after one successful heist? Chappie did not safe his life or did anything inspiring. You just cannot do that in a movie it takes people out of the experiences. Dont you dare say their acting was fine. It was outrageous, have you not seen daniel day lewis, tom hanks, eddy redmayne and merly streep. They are the ones that you can consider as fine artist. Not Ninja and Yolandi.
    • Xerxexx
      Well I have reviews by Billington and friends where they have trashed it. I'd say its even considering reviews.
    • Kinda shocked to see all the negative reviews. Hopefully the movie does still well financially because i don't want the studio to not give Neil the freedom he needs to do the new Alien film.
      • Tester
        So there may be some merit to the opinions of others who didnt think much of the trailer ? Regardless, I agree, I still want him to get the cash to make the Alien movie we are all waiting for.
    • VAharleywitch
      CHUD's review gave it 2.5 of 5. So, an 'ok' movie.
  • digifruitella
    and once more Billington is on Blompkamp's nuts.
    • Xerxexx
      That's the point of being a fan.
      • Tester
        But not the point of a subjective movie review.. That is if that is the point of the review or simply Alex's opinion of the movie. Regardless, I appreciate the review but will reserve judgement till I see the movie.. However, seeing the avg review score for this movie I will wait till a "cheaper" option to see the movie presents itself.
  • Xerxexx
    People seem to have above and beyond high standards these days. Chappie looks delightful and it appears to be a polarizing product, that is a great thing.
    • Ann Parker
      That's the point of having an opinion. Once you do something good, like Blomkamp's D9,the next movie should be equal, if not better. It has to win at least some mass appeal, otherwise this movie won't be bothered by many.
      • Xerxexx
        I lost faith in the masses in terms of movies a long time ago.
    • Tester
      I have to stand with the minority then.. I simply though the trailer looked plain and generic, I saw nothing in that trailer that pointed to a good movie.. and this had nothing to do with his previous 2 movies
      • Ian Barefoot
        I thought that too, but I actually loved the movie. The trailer looked kinda dumb.
  • mgm5215
    You gotta love how people complains about the lack of original ideas in movies, especially in sci-fi, and then they complain about original films like Elysium, Jupiter Ascending, and now Chappie. In the meantime they let real trash like Fifty Shades Of Grey (A Twilight fanfiction disguised as a book turned into a movie) to become huge box office hits, and letting original films to sunk, and then they complain why Hollywood decides to keep giving money to remakes, reboots and sequels. Good review, Alex. Can't wait to see the film.
    • Terry Craig
      That assumption makes no sense. D9 was a fantastic flick and it'd be hard to top for any director.
    • Nature of the beast. People always complain. Myself included. Remember after the Matrix? Once people see shit that blows them away, if you dont do it again, its sorta like "meh". And D9 was fantastic. I think once you set the bar that high, it was just hard to follow up on it...Doesn't mean i did not appreciate Elysium.
  • NathanDewey
    I enjoyed Elysium because I tend to like a reluctant hero that behaves selfishly throughout but ultimately, despite all of their resistance accepts responsibility and sacrifices themselves for a greater good. That tends to win me over. In fact, that's something I like about District 9 as well. I wonder if that theme carries over to this movie. I was going to hold out until Run All Night, but I think I'll check this out before then.
  • ari smulders
    When you make a sience fiction classic like district 9 it's hard to top that again. That said :elysium I enjoyed very much and I probably love chappie when I see it. It's a nature law if you expect to much it will not forfil your expectations. Good review...
    • Scopedog
      Agreed. While I did like D9 a lot, I was let down by ELYSIUM...but I don't hate the film. There were some good bits in it, but I felt it was nowhere near the train wreck others felt it was. "It's a nature law if you expect to much it will not fulfill your expectations." Sad but very true!
      • Tester
        Not sure I can fully agree with you guys on this one. I found Elysium not to be a very good movie, and that opinion had nothing to do with expectations nor how good D9 was.. IMHO it was not a good movie, simple as that
        • Scopedog
          No problems with what you said, Tester, because you took the movie on its own terms. I don't hate ELYSIUM, as I mentioned, but I agree that as a film it was lacking.
  • DAVIDPD
    "There are no strings on me..." I am so ready for CHAPPIE. It does not land here until the 12th, but my body is ready. I stayed away from the last couple trailers so here is hoping the film's plot and originality stay intact. Thanks AB for the review!
    • Sky
      That's an Age of Ultron quote, you know that right? Just can't tell from your comment, you seem pretty genuine.
      • DAVIDPD
        Technically, it is from Disney's PINOCCHIO. But I recognize it is a line from Ultron in the trailer for THE AVENGERS AGE OF ULTRON.
        • avconsumer2
          Wait... so, why did you start your Chappie comments with a Pinocchio quote / Avengers tag line? "May the Force be with you!" I can't wait to see Jurassic World! (See what I did there?)
          • ProjectionistHP
            It's from Pinocchio originally... And for what I know about this movie, quote fits here more than fine, if you are familiar with Pinocchios storyline...
          • avconsumer2
            Ahhhhh gotcha. Apologies, did not read the review (avoiding spoilers). Carry on.
          • Sky
            The quote doesnt fit here, because CHAPPIE NEVER SAYS IT. THE FRIGGIN ROBOT FROM AVENGERS DOES, I KNOW ITS PINOCCHIO, BUT ULTRON SAYS IT IN EVERY TRAILER SO WHY! WHY! WHY!?!?!?!
          • denverchris
            It fits fine. Relax. Have a beer.
          • Sky
            Im having way more right now, it makes me think i was super right to have said all that.
          • denverchris
            That's cool. I mean, you are still over reacting but it's still cool. From a thematic perspective, he is more right than you realize.
          • Sky
            NO ONE IS EVERY RIGHT. Just wait till you realize that, and you realize how people act on the internet. denverchris... i wonder where chris lives
          • denverchris
            Hahahaha. Did you just threaten me...on the internet? Did you want my full address now or were going to just use a locator service? Lemme know how you like my Instagram stream. I know how people act on the internet. But we can always aspire to be better than that.
          • Sky
            yes chris i threatened you, i am such a over whelming force of internet pride that i feel the need to threaten you........ why should we act better when no one else will! They broke me chris THEY BROKE ME!!!!
          • denverchris
            Well man, if you ever want to talk about it, I'm here for you. Right here in Denver.
          • TheOct8pus
            You gonna need a bigger...quote....
        • Sky
          Yea sure, we all know this, BUT the trailer playing constantly with a robot villain. Its just a weird thing to do, when theres obviously another popular robot walking saying these lines.
          • DAVIDPD
            Is it that weird? I guess so...
          • denverchris
            No, its not weird at all.
          • Sky
            im just being crazy, but yea... i def would assume that any pinnochio quotes made this year are associated with Age of Ultron
    • Scott Smith
      I get what you're saying, David. Just because people don't understand you does not make you wrong - remember that. It just means they don't understand. Or they didn't take the time to try to understand. And the onus of that falls on them, not you.
  • tyban81
    i loved it. Instant Classic.
  • Jacob Crim
    Even though it is getting destroyed I am still excited to see it. Everyone tells me I am silly for having faith in Blomkamp because of one film, but I have hopes for this guy.
  • CDR
    I always find it odd how no one really acknowledges that his films are always beautiful sci-fi renditions of South African realities. Or at least they do notice but they don't see the art in it. I mean, they're 'fables' of a modern era just passed, set in a future just-about-to-pass. This never seems to hit home as much for Americans that doesn't mean their not worth their snuff. Rightfully so though, we didn't experience post-apartheid SA, and we are still grappling with our own cultural racial, human nature biases. Its quite beautiful, how he uses a common genre of Science Fiction to transcend contemporary borders. He gives us old themes (human nature/nurture, passion, choice) with old tropes (robots and AI, good v. evil, structures of power) to put forward some new perspectives... That are both a part of us yet not our own.
    • CDR
      Just my two cents. much love.
  • ProjectionistHP
    Heard so much praise for this movie. Def checking it out this weekend.
  • ListenToVinyl
    I'm glad that you liked it Alex. I've seen a bunch of bad reviews so far and that disappointed me. But I enjoyed Elysium and I feel like we have similar tastes when it comes to Sci-Fi so I will definitely be seeing this.
    • Ty Webb
      Love when people like a bad movie like Elysium that even the director himself said sucked and he did it wrong
  • Glad you liked it. I am a bit shocked at all the negative reviews. I refuse to believe that chappie is that bad. Seeing it today.
    • Tester
      Sascha, you are clearly a fan of this man's work so I do hope you enjoy the film.. Looking forward to your feedback
    • Helen Steeply
      I just saw it and loved it. On par with D9 or vey close. I didn't read any reviews beforehand; I'm also shocked to read them now. I can't even get a handle on what critics didn't like about it. The characters were 'unlikable' is what I read the most Which gets a big 'so what?' from me.
  • Scott Smith
    Sounds to me like the movie is like Die Antwoord itself. When I first was exposed (this is the very best word to describe it, for sure!) to Die Antwoord, I wasn't sure. I am not a rap fan, so to speak, but I am a fan of good music that is art and has strong concepts and beliefs behind it, and above all else passion. Die Antwoord has grown on me over the last couple of years, and I started to think that there was as much tongue in cheek with the group, which in itself is one of the greatest art forms if you ask me, as there was serious musical creation, and expert marketing/branding that didn't sacrifice the artists integrity. And then on top of it all, the popularity that they have achieved was a serious long shot, and they're nailing it. Ninja is a pretty smart cookie, if you ask me, the kind of guy that no one realizes is the smartest guy in the room until a couple weeks later. And after watching a documentary on them a couple of days ago "AKA: The Lives of Waddy Tudor Jones", my respect for these foul mouthed creepy looking unscrupulous yet somehow mesmerizing rave rappers grew even more. From what I've learned of the band, after much digging, it sounds like this movie is the perfect role for them. Actually, knowing what I know of them... they wouldn't have taken it if it weren't. I'm glad there are bad reviews out there for the movie. That just means that it might actually be a great movie. Going to see it today, and get die antwoord to that question myself.
  • Thomas Higgins
    Is this film as good as Edge of Tomorrow was? I saw that last year and I utterly adored it.
  • RobotProphet
    Yeah! You go, Alex!! Support the hell out of this movie 😀 I haven't seen it yet, and really want to, but I'm so tired of people saying sh*t about Blomkamp instead of seeing what he's doing.
  • lagirl
    critics got it wrong. just saw it - and it's great, just great!

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