A droid is taught alarmingly bad manners in Neill Blomkamp’s sickening dystopian thriller.



Metal fatigue: Sharlto Copley and Yo-Landi Visser 


It’s unfortunate for Neill Blomkamp, the Oscar-nominated writer-director of District 9 and Elysium, that his Chappie arrives so swiftly on the coattails of Ex-Machina and Big Hero 6. In spite of its cuddly (ironic?) title, Chappie is like the ugly stepsister of the former films about sentient robots. Whereas Alex Garland’s Ex Machina was an intelligent and sexy take on AI, and Disney’s Big Hero 6 a funny and affecting cartoon about a robotic healthcare companion-turned-superhero, Chappie is the story of a revamped police droid in a pernicious Johannesburg of the future. Starting out with the innocence and timidity of a child (who befriends a blonde-tressed Barbie doll) – ‘Chappie’ is soon corrupted by South African thugs with alarmingly bad manners.


Blomkamp starts his film abruptly, threading three story strands around the fate of a droid who has had human cognizance downloaded onto his hard drive by super-nerd Deon Wilson (Dev Patel). Patel wants to teach Chappie to paint and write poetry, the thugs want to turn him into a killing machine, while Hugh Jackman’s amoral and egomaniacal designer wants him eradicated so as to make way for his own robotic model.


It’s an unpleasant business and Chappie is a decidedly misleading choice of title. With its constant foul language and bloodthirsty imagery (one character is, literally, ripped in half), the film is a sickeningly bleak look at humanity. It would seem to suggest that all robots are good, all humans are bad, and that human consciousness is best preserved in mechanical substitutes for ourselves. And its ‘science’ is as ludicrous as that propagated in the 2014 Johnny Depp release Transcendence. Or maybe it’s just a metaphor for the easiness of radicalizing an innocent.




Cast: Sharlto Copley, Dev Patel, Ninja, Yo-Landi Visser, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Sigourney Weaver, Hugh Jackman.


Dir Neill Blomkamp, Pro Neill Blomkamp and Simon Kinberg, Screenplay Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell, Ph Trent Opaloch, Pro Des Jules Cook, Ed Julian Clarke and Mark Goldblatt, Music Hans Zimmer, Costumes Diana Cilliers.


MRC/LStar Capital/Kinberg Genre-Sony Pictures

120 mins. South Africa/USA. 2015. Rel: 6 March 2015. Cert. 15.