Presented by District 9 director Neill Blomkamp, CHAPPiE both entertains and raises a lot of questions about the future of AI (artificial intelligence). Set in the not-to-distant future (2016-ish), CHAPPiE centers around robots that act as our future police force. The robots are set up to be self-sacrificing, fierce and efficient in terms of how they handle policing Capetown, South Africa (also where District 9 was set). One robot in particular is damaged and on his way to the scrap heap when his creator (played by Dev Patel) saves him from destruction so he can experiment with a new AI software program he’s developed. With the new upgrade installed, CHAPPiE becomes self-aware after falling into the hands of some bad people who want to use him for bad things…
The story explores this theme of self-awareness through CHAPPiE’s interaction with the people around him such as his creator and his new-found gangster family who eventually find themselves attached to the robot as his “personality” emerges. The film builds to some conflict as one of the competing engineers at the company that built CHAPPiE wants him out of the way so he can have his own human-piloted robot take over police duties from the robot force currently in place.
The writing is well crafted (Blomkamp is also one of the writers) and compelling. The 2-hour film flies by quickly as there are plenty of emotional moments as well as engaging action sequences. The dialog and interaction between the characters kept my interest throughout the film. The ending (as well as some other spots here and there) takes a cool left turn and had me somewhat surprised as to the direction things were going. Very satisfying by the way, I love films that include moments you don’t see coming which isn’t easy to do these days.
The acting is well done for the most part. The only weak links here are the gangster antagonists that act as CHAPPiE’s “parents” played by Die Antwoord’s Ninja and Yo-Landi Visser. Don’t get me wrong, they’re not terrible but they’re not great either and at times come off a bit forced in their performances. I can’t say that I’m a big fan of Die Antwoord (they sound un-original and dated, Ninja’s rapping is sloppy and incoherent and Yo-Landi’s voice makes me want to punch something) so I’m not judging based on that, but I don’t know that I would’ve cast them either. Meh, they do anger and frustration fairly well emotionally but not much beyond that although both of them have some decent acting moments occasionally.
The standout acting-wise is Sharlto Copley who portrays CHAPPiE himself. Ironically, the way Copley portrayed CHAPPiE actually made him seem more human than his actual human counterparts at times and the robot was the only one I consistently rooted for. The rest of the human characters were all assholes basically (even the creator at times was kind of an ass) so I found myself feeling a lot of sympathy for CHAPPiE but very rarely for anyone else.
The effects (courtesy of WETA) were all top notch and blended in seemlessly. Copley’s motion capture performance is a testimonial to just how good of an actor he is in addition to his emotionally charged and variant dialog. Kudos to Blomkamp and his cast and crew for putting together such a tight and exciting film. The cast includes the talents of Sigourney Weaver and Hugh Jackman.
If you liked District 9 and enjoy good sci-fi drama, I highly encourage you to see CHAPPiE!
reviewed by Sean McKnight