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Ten things we love about ‘Chappie’

Here’s why we’re seriously impressed by ‘District 9’ writer-director Neill Blomkamp’s third sci-fi film

By Tom Huddleston
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After the disappointment of 2013’s ‘Elysium’ – Neill Blomkamp’s follow-up to his superb 2009 debut ‘District 9’ – our expectations were low for the 35-year-old South African filmmaker’s latest effort, the cybernetic action comedy ‘Chappie’. So imagine our surprise when ‘Chappie’ turned out to be every bit as mad, messy and ideas-packed as ‘District 9’, featuring one of the most lovable heroes in recent movie memory. Here's what we love about it.

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1. Chappie himself

The best reason to see ‘Chappie’ is the title character. He’s a titanium-skinned police android who must learn to negotiate the real world after he’s given the gift of artificial consciousness by his creator. Voiced by ‘District 9’ star Sharlto Copley as an ungainly but adorable blend of ET, Ice-T, C-3PO and FW DeKlerk, he’s set to join the likes of Gollum as one of the most memorable and empathy-inducing computer-generated characters in the movies.

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2. The special effects

We’re used to seeing CG characters blending seamlessly into their environments, but that technique has rarely been as beautifully employed as it is here. With his gleaming reflective surfaces, physical interactions with fellow actors and wonderfully liquid, convincing movements, Chappie feels completely of a piece with the world around him. And there are some fantastic explosions, too…

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3. Hugh Jackman’s mullet

Yep, the erstwhile Wolverine doesn’t just play the villain here, he does so in a shaggy-top, long-back hairdo that’d make Linda McCartney proud (he also wears double-khaki and socks with sandals, just to ram the point home that this guy is a real dick). It’s great, too, to hear Jackman using his own Aussie accent – and some particularly fruity homegrown slang – rather than the put-on American burr we’ve grown accustomed to.

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4. The accents

Neill Blomkamp seems to be on a one-man mission to reclaim the Afrikaans accent – well, sort of. For decades associated with racial prejudice and political violence, Blomkamp has rediscovered the comic potential inherent in this most distinct of dialects, and he uses it to its full spit-flying, curse-hurling potential in ‘Chappie’ (one character even drives a car with the number plate ‘FOKOFF’).

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5. Die Antwoord

We’ve known for a while that the members of berserk, confrontational Afrikaans electro-hip-hop duo Die Antwoord were going to have parts in ‘Chappie’, but we didn’t know they’d be joining Dev Patel and Hugh Jackman in the lead roles. Essentially appearing as extreme versions of themselves, Ninja and Yolandi are a weirdly perfect fit for Blomkamp’s oddball vision.

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6. Johannesburg

It feels safe to say that the political establishment (not to mention the tourist board) of South Africa’s largest city are not going to be best impressed with ‘Chappie’. Blomkamp does manage to make this remarkable, sprawling city look incredibly beautiful – but only in a devastated, crime-riddled, litter-strewn apocalyptic landscape kind of way.

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7. The ideas

Any film about artificial intelligence comes in-built with questions about existence, identity and the future of humanity. But ‘Chappie’ doesn’t stop there, digging into notions of nature versus nurture and the bonds between the spirit and the flesh, as well as sci-fi staples like corporate greed and the privatisation of power. We’re not saying ‘Chappie’ digs particularly deep into these issues – this is still a popcorn movie, after all – but they give the film a welcome sense of weight.

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8. The violence

With its moments of broad slapstick and Spielbergian sweetness, ‘Chappie’ is clearly aimed at a wider audience than Blomkamp’s debut ‘District 9’. So don’t go expecting the same level of graphic gore and stomach-churning body-horror (one moment of flesh-ripping nastiness aside). But when the bullets, knives, fists and rockets do start flying, Blomkamp proves that he still knows his way around a bone-crunching action sequence.

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9. The weirdness

After ‘Elysium’, many suspected that ‘District 9’ was just a one-off, and that Blomkamp would end up becoming just another Hollywood director-for-hire, knocking out spectacular but empty blockbusters. But ‘Chappie’ proves that Blomkamp is committed to his own vision: love it or loathe it, there’s no way this could’ve been made by anyone else.

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10. It gets us seriously excited for ‘Alien 5’

It was announced in March 2015 that Blomkamp has been given the go-ahead by 20th Century Fox (and, perhaps more importantly, by ‘Chappie’ co-star Sigourney Weaver) to move ahead with his vision for a new ‘Alien’ movie. The franchise has spelled trouble for some very fine directors in the past – David Fincher and Jean-Pierre Jeunet among them. But if Blomkamp can hang on to his unique vision and not get backed into an ‘Elysium’-style blockbuster corner, we reckon the result should be something very special indeed.

Find cinemas showing ‘Chappie’

Chappie

4 out of 5 stars
Film Science fiction

With its stunning urban landscapes, trash-talking titanium hero and mulleted, God-bothering bad guy (Hugh Jackman, never better), this hugely entertaining oddity could never be mistaken for the work of any other filmmaker.

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