Neil Blomkamp hales from the Paul Verhoeven school of sci-fi filmmaking (see: RoboCop, Starship Troopers), where you combine brutal violence and subversive content in order to create what, on the surface, might appear to just be popcorn entertainment (but is really loaded with socio-political overtones and religious allegories). That was the case with Blomkamp's feature-length debut on District 9 and his followup: the sci-fi dystopia film Elysium, which opens in theaters this August.
For that reason, we're more than a little curious to see what the writer-director brings to the table with his next sci-fi creation, Chappie. The project - described as a comedy - was shrouded in mystery, until Blomkamp revealed that the film is a full-length adaptation of "Tetra Vaal," which is his minute-long fake ad about a robotic police officer who patrols the dangerous slums of South Africa.
Blomkamp will direct Sharlto Copley for a fourth time in Chappie, after the pair collaborated on District 9, Elysium and the short film which gave rise to D9 (titled "Alive in Joburg"). The film is speculated to carry-over the South Africa setting from the original "Tetra Vaal" short, in addition to possibly having Copley portray the robot character through motion-capture.
Heat Vision is reporting that Dev Patel has started early talks for him to play the male lead in Chappie, a character described as being a young man who resides in the shanty town patrolled by Copley. Patel began his career on the TV show Skins - like fellow young English stars Nicholas Hoult (X-Men: Days of Future Past) and Kaya Scodelario (The Maze Runner) - before he broke out with his starring role in Danny Boyle's Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire. The actor went on to play supporting roles in such films as The Last Airbender (but don't hold that against him) and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, before he was brought aboard to portray the Bigfoot-obsessed Neal Sampat on HBO's The Newsroom (which begins airing its second season this month).
Patel has been most successful at playing everyman characters in his work to date, but that does not mean that he won't have to do any fighting in Chappie. After all, Copley as Wikus Van De Merwe in District 9 evolved from mild-mannered government stooge to a half-alien freedom fighter in a mech suit over the course of the film. Similarly, Matt Damon in Elysium plays a dying ex-convict who gets a metal exoskeleton grafted onto his body, which then allows him to battle robots and infiltrate a heavily-guarded space station.
Chappie - which is the South African English slang term for "young man" - could likewise see Patel as the protagonist undergo a drastic transformation, be it literal (like in Blomkamp's previous films) or metaphorically speaking. Patel on The Newsroom tends to be a source of comical relief on the show, so it's feasible that his character in Chappie will also suffer for humorous effect in Blomkamp's first stab at making a comedy.
Elysium will open in theaters on August 9th, 2013.
We'll keep you posted on casting for Chappie as the story develops.