In a near future Johannesburg, robot police have been successfully deployed but their creator Deon Wilson wants to develop the idea and introduce consciousness, something that his boss Michelle Bradley forbids. However when a criminal gang kidnap him to force him to adapt a robot they’ve stolen he sees an opportunity to test his idea. Meanwhile his rival for funding Vincent Moore, frustrated by the company’s refusal to further develop his altogether less subtle Moose law enforcement robot, exploits the situation to his ends. It’s an intriguing scenario especially with the surrounding South African locale providing a different look while a pacey narrative is never less than gripping.

The essence of the film is that once adapted with a consciousness Chappie, as the robot is dubbed, starts to develop quickly. There’s humour to be had in the scenes of his childlike behaviour copying the slang and attitudes of his gangsta `mother` Yolandi and `father` Ninja two street criminals of dubious intent. Yet there’s also a certain sadness that he is so easily led into acts of criminality, drawing a parallel with well -meaning but bad parenting perhaps. The film never tips over into the gimmicky or sentimental though, Blomkamp and co-writer Terri Tatchell ensuring matters remain earthy, edgy and never more than a moment away from some quite shocking violence.
What is remarkable is how easily we warm to Chappie itself. Played using motion capture and voiced by Sharlto Copley the very metal looking robot mimics human body language with ease. As it develops you can see it moving from curious child through awkward adolescent to gullible adult without it changing its appearance save for an amusing street makeover. Even its face somehow manages to convey expression while remaining a small screen surrounded by moving parts and lights. Photo realistic throughout, Chappie is quite an achievement in every respect.
Visually there is little attempt to glamourize the city; in fact the opposite is true as Blomkamp seems to focus on its more downtrodden areas. It is also noteworthy that save for Deon Wilson, almost all of the employees of the company appear to be white South Africans.  Do Chappie and Deon, persecuted in one way or another throughout, represent something more than their characters? It’s hard to say because the writers are not especially interested in delving too deeply into the social aspects of matters. For example, would people be so easily accepting of robot police anyway? It’s a crowded narrative which makes it exciting but perhaps obscures any deeper messages it’s makers  intend.
Some may struggle with the initial half hour which is a little too hectic and packed with unlikeable criminals speaking in South African patois. Oddly the cut I saw had some subtitles for a character who was perfectly comprehensible but none for snatches of Afrikaans dialogue. Dev Patel is therefore our only identification figure, at least until Chappie is rebooted, and handles the role of Deon with likeability though any scientists who see this may be pulling their hair out at his working methods!
It’s odd that the two least well drawn characters are played by big names. Sigourney Weaver gets to scowl in her office as the boss but is underused while Hugh Jackman is surprisingly cast as the antagonist Moore whose motivation, while explained becomes unbelievable as he resorts to increasingly melodramatic methods. If this is supposed to represent his inner clash between the soldier he was and the scientist he has become it doesn’t come over very well in the script.
On the other hand both actors who play the robot’s minders, Ninja (yes that’s his actual name) and Yolandi Visser who are part of a rap group in real life bring a down to earth and very South African feel to things though they too are white. Their characters have the same names as they do and though shrill and unlikeable at first the script gives them an interesting arc. The bond they develop with Chappie seems to bring them together to the point that they become heroic towards the end. This supports the development of Chappie and draws on the theme of family that marks their interaction with the robot.
Not that it ends in a cosy way; after a number of high octane action sequences, shot by Blomkamp in all their messy glory, the climax is even more visceral. The fact that you’re rooting for two criminals and a robot says much about the way the film draws you into this unusual, flawed but inventive story. 
He soon learned Saturday Night Fever

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