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Movie review: CHAPPiE

Roslyn Hull

In a near future, South African crime is controlled, with great effect, by a robotic police force called scouts. However there are those opposed to humans relying on machines and those who want to take the science further. What happens when the creator of the scouts wants to take the next step and make the robots sentient?”

Anyone who loves the Terminator films just had a chill run down their spine.

But don’t be afraid, this is less like Skynet and more like Short Circuit, with guns and swearing and violence.

The lesson from any sci-fi film like this is always that humans and robots don’t mix and it will end in tears, saved only by the humans that retain their humanity. Then there is Neill Blomkamp’s premise (not unlike the idea behind Big Hero 6) that it is the robots that can teach us to regain our humanity.

Interesting thought. Interesting film.

Actually, I would go so far as to say a surprisingly touching film. By the climatic scenes I was cheering for Chappie the robot and the deadbeat, druggie gangsters – not bad (writer and director) Neill Blomkamp, not bad. He is the man behind District 9 and Elysium. A self-confessed lover of popcorn action and speed in films he has nonetheless established himself quite rapidly as the alternative to American sci-fi – a different voice and vision with a level of sensitivity often missing in the American product.

His earlier films are about underdogs challenging the status quo and so is this. Yes, the plot has holes I could drive a Moose through and yes, my least favourite thing in sci-fi is present – leaps in logic. Moon gravity leaps in logic. Grrrr.

But I just couldn’t stop myself from getting involved, laughing at the abundant humour and being taken along on Chappie’s journey. I felt his pain and was sad for his loss.

The acting is a bit over the top by Dev Patel as Chappie’s creator, and a bit underdone by the two members of South African rap-rave band Die Antwoord, who play the aforementioned deadbeat druggie gangsters. Hugh Jackman is perfect, naturally, and really quite good at being bad. And Australian.

Incidentally the ‘Moose’ is the human operated (and one could say overcompensatingly large) robot designed by Jackman’s character as the blunt instrument alternative to the scouts’ precise machine.

Interestingly, the standout performance is by an actor you never see – Sharlto Copley. He did all the motion capture for Chappie and it is a knockout! A blend of awkwardness and well-articulated movement, the way Chappie grows, scene by scene and tiny movement by tiny movement is just wonderful. So much of the budget must have gone on the C.G.I. – it is captivating. I never had a sense of watching an animation at all – Chappie was absolutely real.

The city and the locations are either gritty and grimy, or cookie cutout boring (Blomkamp will never work for South Africa tourism) but they look real – and probably are. Sometimes Hollywood sci-fi has a fakeness about it, a sense of a façade with no depth to the look, that adds to the gloss and style but detracts from the honesty of the film. This film looks like it was made in present day Jo’burg, and probably was.

The quite artistic gangsters live in what looks like a deserted power station, decorated with great graffiti, anti-establishment slogans and Banksy-esque images. There are hammocks, shabby chic coloured glassware and lots of pop kitsch.

I loved their lair. I loved the Swiss cheese story and above all I loved Chappie.


Ros Hull

Roslyn is a writer and storyteller who loves all things Canberra, her family, sci fi and movies – but not in that order. She has worked in museum education since 2001 and has a passion for imparting knowledge to others. Writing is her happy place, particularly if there is a dog at her feet and a coffee in her hand. More about the Author

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