“A few years ago, movie goers were blown away by writer/director Neill Blomkamp with his District 9. The scifi allegory on apartheid was a big hit on many fronts. People were eager for a follow up, which came a few years later with Elysium. Let’s just say that the number of people excited for Chappie decreased a bit. I, however, count myself to be amongst them (even if the March release date gives me pause).

The brilliance of District 9 was that as a sci fi, it’s pretty solid to begin with. Add in the layer of symbolism and commentary, and it’s beautiful, especially since it’s not laid on too thick. Elysium had some of the same aspirations, but got kinda lost in itself and its concept. I still rather enjoyed it, but Blokamp himself has admitted he made mistakes, and that it could have been better.

With Chappie, he’s back on his home turf, both figuratively and literally as he’s not only on Earth, but back in South Africa. It might not be quite the same level of allegory as District 9, but it’s still a commentary infused scifi, as this time he tackles artificial intelligence. In the not too distant future of the film, robot technology has advanced to the point of having a full force of police drones out on the street. In the logical next evolutionary step, one of them is reprogramed and becomes self aware and conscious, as the child-like Chappie (so not SkyNet levels of self aware). Chappie must be trained and taught just like a newborn child, and he’s caught up between the life of crime he’s been kidnapped for, the jealous engineer hellbent on sabotaging the drones, and the well intentioned engineer who built him.

What really makes the movie special is Chappie himself, voiced and motion captured (ish) by constant Bomkamp collaborator, Sharlto Copley. He’s just so sweet and innocent, infinitely more Wall-E than T-1000. Regardless of how you take the rest of the film, this title character should be reason enough to watch at least once.

I didn’t really care for the gangster team that Chappie lived with. Ninja was just annoying and by the time Yolandi became endearing, she’d already proven she couldn’t really act. And I’m not sure how I feel about Hugh Jackman. On the one hand, I loved seeing him getting be a villain instead of a tortured good guy, but something about it feels like a miscast. Maybe he just didn’t rock the greasy hair and the tourist father shorts and polo combo that well, but then again, if Jackman can’t make that look work, no one can. I did however enjoy Dev Patel as the genius inventor. It could just be that of all the charaters of course I’m going to associate most with the nerd, or it could be that he was the most realistic and believable one.

This doesn’t quite live up to District 9 standards, and I fear that will haunt Blomkamp the rest of his career, but it also doesn’t deserve the negativity it’s been getting. If nothing else, he has Copley to thank for giving this film some life.

Chappie – \m/ \m/ \m/”

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