- Directed by Neill Blomkamp
- March 4, 2015 (New York City) / March 6, 2015 (US)
In the near future a modified law enforcement robot in Johannesburg, South Africa is captured and taught by gangsters. That sounds much worse than it actually is.
Chappie is a weird science fiction crime film mostly because of the childlike nature of the central character and people playing fictional versions of themselves in the near future. Chappie (Sharlto Copley) is a police robot that after being damaged is used by Tetravaal programmer Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) in an unauthorized artificial intelligence experiment.
Despite being a near future world it does bare a strong resemblance to today. Heck even the use of robot police officers is topical in this day and this wasn’t made within the last few months but rather a few years ago. Either Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell had a moment of dumb luck with the conception of the story or somebody was really perceptive of trends.
But more importantly, they don’t beat you over the head with their future environment. They do just enough to let you know that this is not happening now but later. Just elements here and there. And you’re not drowning in CGI but rather enough to make whatever reality they need to present feel real.
There is some heart to this movie as the story touches on topics of life and death. There are elements of what exactly makes us civilized as opposed to a thug. And it asks what ultimately defines being a human outside of flesh and blood? From there it touches on transhumanism. Significantly deeper things for any film.
Chappie finds friendship and family among a group of criminals. They ‘raise’ him and take him in as their own in an effort to get an edge in a heist. But they begin to genuinely care for him and worry about him. Yolandi (Yolandi Visser) is the first of the gang to treat this new life kindly followed by Amerika (Jose Pablo Cantillo) and at the very end Chappie earns it from Ninja (Ninja). Yeah, two of the people here play metafictional versions of themselves.
Chappie is a child in a cruel world that sees everything purely in an innocent way. His naïve demeanor leads him to see only the good in things. Along the way he learns some life lessons though rather harshly. He comes to learn about life and death and how hard life can be.
From the start Chappie is facing death. His battery is fused to his body and cannot be removed. Why Deon did not design it with a rechargeable battery rather than one that needed to be removed is a bit stupid. Part of the story here is Chappie looking for a way to survive.
The main threat is former soldier turned Tetravaal engineer Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman). The type of robot that Chappie is has supplanted the overwhelmed police force and been a huge success for Tetravaal. Moore has been developing a piloted mech called a MOOSE controlled by human thought. Which is expensive and not as attractive to the police as the same model as Chappie.
Once he learns of the unauthorized experiment he decides to take advantage of the situation. From there things spiral out of control. He is rather violent and becomes consumed by revenge and covering up that he is actually behind the chaos.
Chappie’s innate goodness inspires those he meets to be better if not necessarily perfect. It inspires self-sacrifice in Ninja and Yolandi. This is largely told from Chappie’s perspective which is childlike and innocent but when the more adult things come in the tone of the film really shifts. And for all of the nasty things that happen it ends on a hopeful note. Chappie’s goodness and selflessness saves his friends. Our hero manages to survive in a way that makes sense. Then again this lays out the elements of the ending as the story moves along rather than coming up with something out of left field.
Chappie is a great piece of newer science fiction. It has action and excitement and heart that hooks you. Plus it has stuff going on below the surface making it meatier than just an action film. This is something I highly recommend!