After a brief detour to outer space with Elysium, South African writer/director Neill Blomkamp returns to Johannesburg, the location of his 2009 blockbuster hit District 9.

In the not-so-distant future, Johannesburg is trying to handle its massive crime problem with the use of autonomous robots. They are the sledge hammer of the Joburg police force: First in and thus usually on the receiving end of a shotgun slug or a rocket launcher payload to the head. But that’s OK, their artificial intelligence is limited and they are, after all, machines; nothing but human servants.

The company making the robots, Tetravaal, is, unsurprisingly, doing great and orders for new robots are stacking up. The only Tetravaal employee who isn’t celebrating is soldier-turned-engineer Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman), who’d much rather see his remotely controlled, i.e. non-autonomous, MOOSE be successful. Moore doesn’t trust artificial intelligence, and he is willing to do what it takes to see the robots fail. A guy who really enjoys his AI, however, is Moore’s nemesis, Deon Wilson (Dev Patel). Wilson is the mastermind responsible for Tetravaal’s successful robotic police officers, and when he is not busy overseeing R&D and manufacturing at work, he sits at home occupying himself with “several terabytes of compiling and coding”. One night, he manages to create a stable, self-aware AI. All he needs now is a host, and with his access to Tetravaal resources, Wilson steals a damaged robot scheduled to be decommissioned.

Wilson’s new AI is uploaded to the robot and CHAPPiE is, quite literary, born.

Throughout CHAPPiE, you’ll see loads and loads of amazing computer generated graphics. The main person is, after all, computer generated and the visual effects guys have done a fantastic job. CHAPPiE himself is played by Sharlto Copley, who got his major break through in District 9 and has since managed to become Blomkamp’s goto-guy – he is in the director’s every movie to date.

“I have several terabytes of compiling and coding to do and then we shall see.” — Deon Wilson, CHAPPiE.

Although the movie might feel a bit stale at times, there is not much down time between action sequences. While I’d call CHAPPiE a sci-fi action movie, there is also a lot of emotional drama. That’s not normally something that works well for me in a movie, but in CHAPPiE’s case, it’s there for a good reason: We are, after all, following a self-aware AI that grows up and tries to fit in.

One of the great strengths of CHAPPiE is the casting. Two of the main characters are members of the South African rap-rave group Die Antwoord (Spotify), Ninja and Yolandi Visser. In the movie, they play themselves and they are doing a remarkably good job. Die Antwoord also has a couple of very fitting tracks in CHAPPiE.

CHAPPiE didn’t do too well with professional1 critics. As of right now, the movie has a 41/100 rating over at Metacritic, and the Tomatometer shows 31%. But the audience seem to enjoy it more than the critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the audience score is 51%, while 113,894 IMDB users have given CHAPPiE an average score of 7.0/10.

Me, I loved the movie. How can you not like a movie that has gotten the “approved” stamp from genre defining sci-fi author William Gibson?

Blomkamp has a way of writing and directing that really appeals to me, and the original score by Hans Zimmer is great. Getting the audience to actually have compassion with a machine is an impressive achievement. Blomkamp’s vision of AI is not too far-fetched, either, something recent events have shown. My only complaints about CHAPPiE are the really stupid “terabytes of compiling and coding” line, and some obvious flaws when it comes to the technical limitations of data storage and transfer rates. I’m not going in to details here as that can spoil the fun, but if you have even the slightest knowledge of these topics, you’ll probably cringe a little every now and then. I know I’m nit–picking, but weaknesses like these are what separates a great movie from a truly excellent one.

The next project for Blomkamp is a new movie in the Alien franchise and since it’s his first attempt on a sci-fi horror feature film, I’m very eager to see what he can make of that.

Footnotes

  1. Professional as in “a person who gets paid for a service”, in this case have an opinion about a movie.