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Neill Blomkamp may still have the power to save science fiction, but he's going to have to continue working to prove it. The District 9 director's new film Elysium is a modest hit, but failed to live up to the expectations from Blomkamp's directorial debut-- no easy feat, of course, since District 9 was a massively profitable Best Picture nominee. But anyone who thought Elysium was a little too much like District 9 ought to like the sound of Blomkamp's next film, which THR reports has a release date. Sure, he's working in sci-fi again, and with Sharlto Copley… but with Copley playing a robot this time, things ought to be a little different.
Sony Pictures, which released both District 9 and Elysium, has set a March 27, 2015 release date for Chappie, in which Copley will voice a robot who is kidnapped by a group of gangsters, led by characters played by rappers Ninja and Yolandi Visser. Blomkamp and Copley have described the film as a sci-fi comedy, though that doesn't necessarily means it will get away from the social commentary that defined both District 9 and Elysium. 2015 is looking like a very, very crowded year already, thanks to projects like Avengers: Age of Ultron and Star Wars: Episode VII sucking up all the attention, but so far March isn't so bad-- Chappie will be opening directly against Fox's Penguins of Madagascar, which shouldn't be too much competition, but a week before that aforementioned Avengers movie, which means Chappie won't have long to get all those District 9 fans in line.
But that might actually be the best thing for it. Elysium baffled plenty of us when it opened in the same timeframe as District 9 but made way less, suggesting that the original South Africa-set sci-fi drama was the kind of lightning in a bottle that can't be repeated, even with something as similar as Elysium. Blomkamp knows as well as anyone that his best course is to change directions entirely, and by moving into comedy-- and making the truly bold move of casting rappers in his film-- Blomkamp might finally be able to escape those District 9 comparisons entirely.
For an idea of what Blomkamp might be going for in Chappie, check out his 2004 short "Tetra Vaal," which he says is the inspiration for the new film. There's no sign of the promised comedy, though, and the contrast between the futuristic robot tech and the slums of Johannesburg seems to have led directly into District 9, so there might be less of that in Chappie itself. "Tetra Vaal" is another reminder of the amazing stuff Blomkamp can do with a small budget and a big imagination-- and proof that, no matter how disappointing Elysium might have been, he deserves our attention for a good while longer.