Monday, March 23, 2015

Film Review: Chappie (2015)

Copyright: Columbia Pictures
So far, Neill Blomkamp’s films weren’t works of art that felt completely organic to me.  When District 9 was hailed as the future of a gritty, dark, socially sentient science fiction, I wasn’t convinced that it truly had a real message to transmit. Instead, it seemed to me that Blomkamp figured out how his work can seem deep and meaningful while it had nothing new to say, apart from the fact that people tend to be racists and savage in many different circumstances.

His new film Elysium was, for me, the crown evidence for this theory. In this awkward mixture of Hollywood A-list actors and high-budget CGI, Blomkamp delivered a shallow story that neither sold its drama nor its action. It was District 9 all over again, but it lacked the charm of a small production set in a real exotic, turbulent location.

This is why I was even less excited when I heard that the same director was making a movie called Chappie. To me, it seemed like he decided to retreat even further back into his original breakthrough film and I doubted it could result in something interesting. I was completely wrong about that.

In Chappie, Blomkamp dug deep to reconnect with a totally personal narrative, free of forced social commentary. In his new film, a tale of a police robot that gets hijacked and reprogrammed so it develops full consciousness, is funny and fun, but still managed to deeply resonate with something in me which differentiates between a living thing, and those things that are not alive (or so I judge them).

In the whirlwind that follows after the mechanical birth of Chappie, the childlike robot is left with Ninja and Yolandi, South African street gangster (and in real life, two of the core members of a band Die Antwoord). These two act as surrogate parents to the intellectually young Chappie, who grows up in a matter of days under their completely opposite directions. The additional element is Deon, a young and idealistic programmer who created Chappie’s intelligence and dreads to see him joining a criminal lifestyle.

In its course, the film deals with the nature of life, death, violence, creativity and the needs of individuals that come into conflict with the needs of others around them. At moments, Chappie’s growing up is hilarious (the segment with stealing cars), while in others it is totally terrifying and even disturbing. All these ideas are fantastically presented by the incredible acting skills of both Yolandi and Ninja. I knew that they were great performers, but in Chappie they show an impressive range that covers deadly serious, sadistic to a scary level and completely goofy, especially in Ninja’s case.

The larger narrative ideas of the plot seem irrelevant when they are is compared to the character of Chappie itself. Like Wall-E and other great robot characters, I experienced the film from his perspective and it was an impressive ride. For me, the entire Chappie movie was a vessel that delivered a complex, believable character to whom I could relate completely, even though he (or it) is not even a human being.