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Movie Review: CHAPPiE


Chappie is Neill Blomkamp's latest thought-provoking sci-fi actioner, following in the wake of Elysiumand the revered District 9Die Antwoord were blown away by District 9 and felt an immediate synergy with Blomkamp, leading the zef rappers and director to join forces. Adamant that they be themselves in the film, Chappie was born out of the idea that Ninja and Yo-landi raise a robot.

While Neill Blomkamp and Die Antwoord share a fierce desire to create original, surprising and inherently raw entertainment with artistic merit, airdropping them into Blomkamp's universe was bound to lead to conflict as to the perceived ownership of the artwork. Chappie thrives on the tension of these two worlds colliding both on and reportedly off-screen, creating a dynamic, visceral and unpredictable atmosphere.

The creative energies behind both factions unite to fuse an "art film blockbuster", anchored by homegrown quirkiness and a spiraling exploration of consciousness. At times, the clipboard reality at the Tertravaal offices comes across like the original The Office, if instead of a paper merchant, they were into robotics. Then, the overriding themes of human consciousness and a futuristic mechanised police force have strong parallels with films like Robocop and I, Robot.

Blomkamp relishes this blend of the real and unreal, which creates tension in and of itself. Perhaps this is why Die Antwoord were a good match with their driving theme to live in the unexpected and unpredictable to continually shatter illusions and create real moments.

Chappie is played by Sharlto Copley, who provided the voice and motion capture performance for the re-programmed droid. His physicality is impressive and he portrays the robot's personality from a child to a teenager with great understanding, without having the luxury of facial expressions like Andy Serkis did in the Planet of the Apes reboot.

Chappie 2015

"Chappie, who's your Daddy?"

Ninja and Yo-Landi Visser play Chappie's adoptive parents, essentially playing an extreme variation of themselves, with Yo-Landi credited as Yolandi. While their performances are raw, their sincerity, style and punk passion make up the difference. Although you wonder how Chappie would've fared without them. Ninja delivers a nasty, unapologetic and "adorable a**hole" as Daddy. While Yo-Landi counterbalances him with her flamboyant cute pixie vibrations and maternal instincts to win us over with Mommy.

The supporting cast includes Hugh Jackman, playing a very "unHugh Jackman" role, dressed down as an awkward villain with a mullet and his Australian accent. While uncharacteristic, cantankerous and silly, he owns Vincent Moore like a blend of Captain Haddock and Bluto. Dev Patel is his Tintin and Popeye as Deon Wilson, playing a smart robotics engineer, whose Scout programme success infuriates Moore. Patel is one of the only likable human characters as the "Maker", trying to play Chappie's angel on the shoulder to Ninja's devil.

Sigourney Weaver is Tetravaal (and Chappie) CEO, Michelle Bradley, a strong presence, adding sci-fi cult clout in a small supporting role. Then, in his most primal and ferocious role yet, Neill Blomkamp regular Brandon Auret, plays iconic gangland kingpin, Hippo. His intensity and mad dog performance, deserved a bigger subplot and more screen time.

While something of a sci-fi comedy, Chappie never strays too far from is actioner roots, starting with great aplomb in a similar style to District 9 and ramping up to a meltdown of epic proportions. The CGI is quite brilliant and deceptively effortless, creating the impression that Chappie's bulletproof body isn't a post-production wonder. You never doubt the droids or any aspect of Blomkamp's cyberpunk Johannesburg, which is testament to the film's great balance and present CGI.

The soundtrack is just as bizarre as the film, crushing action scenes with powerful, impending doom from Hans Zimmer and then peppering Chappie with rap rave tracks from Die Antwoord. The eclectic mix is powerful and trashy, reflecting the film's identity crisis and carrying the naive and playful Chappie from innocent child to pistol-packing gangster. The weapons always play a big part of Blomkamp's production and Chappie delivers on the expectation of explosive action carnage.

While not essential, it certainly helps if you're South African when it comes to understanding the diverse range of accents and some of the language. While invested in South African culture and loaded with the unmistakable flag, the universal appeal can be found in the dysfunctional family story at its core and the overriding examination of consciousness and morality.

Here's the crux. Die Antwoord think this is a Die Antwoord film. Neill Blomkamp makes Neill Blomkamp movies. The attention-grabbing Die Antwoord, Ninja's tattoos, bad language, merchandise and music stings make Chappie seem like they were won over with mass exposure in exchange for their participation. While this hurts the movie, you can't really imagine it would have had the same edge and spunk without their presence.

It's a bad marriage, but one that gave birth to this bold, quirky, unapologetic South African sci-fi action comedy. While it doesn't feel like Blomkamp's original vision for the film, it holds enough raw entertainment value, quizzical detail, eclectic cool, unbridled passion and pulpy substance to keep us locked in. The pop culture influences are treated in a fresh manner and while somewhat messy, Blomkamp's still able to throw a tarpaulin over the truckload of trinkets and make Chappie stand alone, loud and proud.

The bottom line: Hotchpotch