Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) is a brilliant engineer and scientist working for the successful South African defense contractor Tetravaal. He designed the Scout Robotic Police Units which have been sold in large numbers to the Johannesburg Police Force. But in his off time, he works on his passion project: creating the world’s first true, self-aware artificial intelligence. Denied resources to compete the project by Tetravaal’s CEO (Sigourney Weaver), Deon elects to complete the project himself by stealing a Scout Droid scheduled to be scrapped; however, before he can do so, he is kidnapped by a gang of thugs (played by South African rap group Die Antwoord). As a result, he is forced to bring his creation into the world under threat of their guns; this new being (voiced by Blomkamp’s frequent collaborator Sharlto Copley) quickly takes on a life of its own and comes to be known as Chappie.
This film does certainly have its problems. There are more plot holes than I would prefer; for example, why is Hugh Jackman’s character (another engineer at Tetravaal) trying to sell a robot equipped with anti-aircraft weaponry to the Johannesburg Police Force? Sigourney Weaver’s character was severely underutilized, being on screen for ten of fifteen minutes tops, while Jackman’s character lacked much characterization. All these problems seem to stem from the fact that there seemed to be a good chunk of the film that was lost to the editing room floor; the theatrical cut runs for a mere 120 minutes, very short for a science fiction film. I can’t wait to get my hands on the Director’s Cut, though.
But overall, these are minor problems. CHAPPiE is fun, it’s funny, and sometimes it’s even heartwarming. It possesses a fantastic mixture of action, humor, and earnestly tender moments as Chappie learns and grows-up. But most importantly, it feels unique. Where Elysium just generally felt like a generic Hollywood blockbuster, CHAPPiE feels like a Neil Blomkamp film. Even with a story which admittedly has already been told many times in various forms in science fiction, this film feels special. It’s different because it possesses that same charm, independence, and infusion of non-American culture that sets Blomkamp apart from the crowd. And adding on to that, he has now learned how to write good comedy and create a heartwarming coming-of-age story. It’s not as quite as good as District 9, but it’s really damn good. And it might be even more important, showing that if he puts his mind to it, Neil Blomkamp can make anything.