The Spring 2015 release Chappie is director Neill Blomkamp’s third feature film, and the first since his previous above-average release Elysium. Much like Blomkamp’s film debut District 9, Chappie will take us back to the depths of South Africa. It will most likely feature another two-dimensional narrative centered around an unconventional-yet-charming protagonist with ham-fisted social commentary under his uniquely textured style of science fiction. And that’s not entirely a bad thing.
This time around we’re treated to Chappie, the titular character, and the first robot of his kind (at least in Neill’s film canon). Free-thinking and capable of complex thought, the premise of the story looks to face audiences with the “Do androids dream of electric sheep?” trope. Chappie is pinned as a robot-out-of-water; an impressionable, and very vulnerable thinking machine in a dangerous arena of human conflict.
On his travels, Chappie will at some point befriend the endemic Cape Town duo that are “Ninja” and “Yolandi Visser” as they lead him through the human experience. Ninja and Yolandi are already known to us as the hip-hop electro group “Die Antwoord” – who have become the mainstream face of the quirky South African hip-hop scene, and avid members of the “zef” lifestyle.
Neill Blomkamp, a Johannesburg local, has built a reputation of nestling South Africa at the core of his story elements as well as an iconic science fiction style – heavily influenced by Zef. Poor and busted, but stylish and sexy. If anything, this film will be a love letter to the Zef style, and Die Antwoord are a quirky piece that appropriately match Blomkamp’s artistic vision. They will be playing themselves in the film.
Sharlto Copley (District 9, Elysium) also makes his third-straight Blomkamp film appearance, this time as the voice of our robo-friend Chappie. Previously Copley has played main characters in Neill’s two features – one as a buffoon anti-hero department manager, and the other as a psychotic antagonistic mercenary. Copley, a native of Pretoria (located just outside of Johannesburg) met Blomkamp right out of high school, and since then have been collaborating on cinematic projects, fitting an unconventional personality perfectly into Neill’s conventional writing.
Terri Tatchell, Neill’s wife and co-writer of District 9, will be making a return as well.
Much like District 9, the inspiration of Chappie is directly pooled from the earlier works of Blomkamp. As District 9 was based off his Alive in Joburg shortfilm , Chappie will be loosely based off the art direction and vision of his android in his shortfilm Tetra Vaal, which is hugely inspired by the robot Briareos Hecatonchires in the anime/manga Appleseed.
The film also displays some bigger-name actors, which isn’t unusual considering the leads of Blomkamp’s previous movie (Elysium) which featured Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Alice Braga, Diego Luna, and William Fichtner. For Chappie, Blomkamp has brought on acclaimed actors Hugh Jackman and Dev Patel (whose roles were vaguely outlined in the announcement trailer), as well as Sigourney Weaver. Jackman appears to be the archetypal paranoid anti-AI antagonist and aggressive male in charge while Patel will serve as the nerdy, passive, creative type who programmed Chappie and only wants the best for his robot creation.
Now if anything is to be learned from his last two films it’s that Blomkamp doesn’t really provide an overly-complicated social dialogue in his narrative. His messages are very straightforward, and serve more as a plot engine than as something that would seriously evoke discussion. In District 9 we were beaten over the head with issues of xenophobia, immigration, and segregation. In Elysium, we were then dragged into a cave and further beaten over the head with the obvious subjects of class warfare, overpopulation, and health care.
Chappie doesn’t look to really further the dialogue of “what it is to be human” beyond its current state. It’s not something that hasn’t been talked about before in science fiction, and we most likely won’t dive too deep into the subject in the film. But thin social commentary hasn’t stopped Blomkamp from crafting genuine, passionate, fun-to-watch movies with immerse, detailed settings and charming, memorable characters.
Chappie is certainly a movie to look forward to, releasing Friday March 6th, 2015.