All of Neill Blomkamp’s feature-length films since District 9 have proved that he, as a director and writer, is capable of more than just creating a compelling story – he can also provoke thought and make us think critically about the morals behind his narratives. Chappie focuses on both the concern of how far technology will go in the future and also, more importantly, what it actually means to be human.
In the near future of 2016, Johannesburg’s police force is comprised of a team of robotic officers designed by Tetravaal, South Africa’s leading mechanics industry. Under the authority of Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver, Alien and Avatar), Deon Wilson (Dev Patel, Slumdog Millionaire) is an extremely hard-working designer trying to crack the mystery of artificial intelligence, with one goal in mind – to create a robotic being with a conscience. His endeavours lead to the creation of Chappie, the first self-conscious droid; however Deon begins to panic as this new species falls into the wrong hands.
After his superiors at Tetravaal disapprove of his testing and don’t allow him to carry it out) Deon steals a broken robot from the company’s workshop. At the same time, Ninja, Yo-Landi and Amerika, three small-time criminals, make a plan to steal a police-bot in order to assist them during a $200 million heist. These two events coincide and Deon is threatened and subsequently forced to give Chappie over to the self-professed ‘gangstas’, which leads to his infant-like creation being tainted.
Blomkamp’s decision to cast South African Rap-Rave duo, Die Antwoord, as Chappie’s ‘Mummy and Daddy’ was certainly a brave one, but one which ultimately paid off. For those who are familiar with the group, famous for songs such as ‘Enter the Ninja’ and ‘Fatty Boom Boom’ (both of which feature in the film), it is almost impossible to imagine them acting due of their already larger-than-life personas, however, neither of them show any lack of confidence or ability. The only issue is the lack of realism, as they are two extremely unusual characters – this, however, is more a fault of the writing, or a result of basing your protagonists around an already extremely quirky and unique couple. They definitely do bring a needed lighter touch to the film, with their natural humour and over-the-top ‘gangsta’ behaviour.
Using the duo’s music at many pivotal moments in the film was another wise choice of Blomkamp’s – purely as a way of, once again, lightening the mood of the film, but also to anchor the very abnormal way of life the characters lead, and the life they raise Chappie in. A particular highlight would be Yo-Landi’s high-pitched verse on ‘Cookie Thumper’ playing as Chappie learns to become a ‘real gangster’, combining the hip-hop braggadocio with a high-energy beat. The score is composed by Hans Zimmer, and creates a nice contrast with the lively soundtrack, adding a depth to particular scenes with a true epic ‘Zimmer’ sound.
The film boasts a number of achievements – a fantastic cast (also featuring Hugh Jackman, Jose Pablo Cantillo from the Walking Dead, and Sharlto Copley who played Wikus van der Merwe in District 9, and voices Chappie); music from Die Antwoord, and Hanz Zimmer; a wonderful director; and witty dialogue – but the main thing to be taken away from Chappie is the refreshingly innovative story. Touching on issues of sub-cultures, the future of technology and its impact on society, and what it takes to become a human, the movie is definitely a breath of fresh air in the action-sci-fi genre right now, with its strong moral backbone whilst still playing up to its role as an action-packed blockbuster.
Chappie is an incredible story, and plays a bigger role than a typical film. This genre of conscious film-making is definitely a necessity in the film industry at the moment… and another thing is for sure; Chappie definitely makes us extremely excited for Blomkamp’s forthcoming ‘Alien’ project.
Chappie is available on Blu-Ray on the 6th July and on DVD by the 13th July.