Director: Neil Blomkamp
Cast: Dev Patel, Hugh Jackman, Sharlto Copley, Ninja, Yo-landi Visser, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Sigourney Weaver
When you see Chappie, you immediately know it’s a Neil Blomkamp movie. It has his signature all over it. Let’s see, it was shot in Africa (like his previous two films) it stars Sharlto Copley and it has robots engraved into the story, all elements we've seen in his previous films. What I like about Blomkamp’s films is that they always have something to say. His films are very socially conscious; they are never just empty spectacles. For example District 9 (2009) spoke of racism, Elysium (2013) spoke of classism and now here we have Chappie, Blomkamp’s third film. What does this talented director have to talk about this time?
Chappie is all about these armor plated attack robots that are used by the South African police force to pacify and protect the country. These robot cops have proven effective in reducing crime in the country. Deon Wilson, the robots designer, has invented a chip that can make the robots sentient. In other words, he can make these robots think and feel on their own. Problem is that his ideas sound too radical for his superiors, so they deny him the permission to move forward with his sentient chip. In a desperate move to “shape life and not let life shape you” he decides to steal a robot that was meant to be scrapped and installs the chip on it in this way jump starting the first sentient form of artificial intelligence. Unfortunately when the robot becomes conscious, it has the intelligence of a child. It learns fast, but it is very naïve. What happens when Chappie ends up with the wrong crowd?
Blomkamp infused Chappie with elements from many films that he grew up watching. For example, the first idea that popped into my head while watching Chappie was that Neil Blomkamp should have been the director for the Robocop (2014) reboot. Here’s a guy who really, truly understands the themes that a film like Robocop plays with. In fact, one look at Chappie and it’s obvious that Blomkamp’s a huge fan of Paul Verhoeven’s original Robocop (1987), especially those scenes where we see the robot police force at work. When Chappie’s taking the world in, like a little baby, it reminded me of Johnny 5 from Short Circuit (1986), especially in those scenes in which Chappie is learning all about life and death. All I could think about was Johnny 5 saying “Johnny 5 is ALIVE!” Those scenes in which Chappie is taken advantage of by a bunch of hoodlums to do questionable things reminded me of those scenes in Edward Scissorhands (1990) when Edward is dooped into committing a felony without even knowing it because he is so naive. Those scenes where Chappie goes up against a huge clunky robot brought to mind the climactic confrontation in Robocop 2 (1990), where Robocop destroys the city as he fights against a bigger Robocop. In fact, if we’re to go even deeper into Chappie’s influences, we discover that it plays with the ideas of transferring consciousness into an artificial body, a theme we saw played out in Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell (1995), hell, Chappie even has a little bit of Appleseed in its design, I’m speaking of Chappie's rabbit ears of course. As you can see, Chappie has elements from many films that deal with similar subject matter.
Okay, so Chappie is influenced by a gazillion movies (what movie isn’t these days?), but what is it about? As it turns out Chappie talks about some very important themes, it speaks about the importance of who brings up a child. One of the theories of human learning says that Humans learn by imitation, we copy others behavior. This is true with children who repeat everything we say and do everything they see us do. Some of us get decent role models, but some of us get terrible parents who are terrible role models. The question Chappie asks is what happens when our role models are violent people with no morals? What if our role models believe stealing and killing is okay? Will we grow up to become robbers and killers? Chances are we will. The film stresses the importance of good parenting, good education and good role models in our lives. The movie goes into deeper territory when Chappie’s knowledge grows and he starts to ask ‘the big questions’. Why must we die? Why make us with an expiration date? It’s no coincidence that Chappie’s creator is called Deon, which sounds like Deus, which is Latin for God. So we have the creation asking its creator for more life. Like the androids in Blade Runner (1982), Chappie also wants more life. So yeah, Chappie has its themes. It’s not an empty shell.
The cast is an eclectic bunch. We have the participation of Die Antwoord the African rap/rave band, who by the way also supply the music for the film, not the best performances in the film, but also not terrible. Dev Patel does good as Chappie’s creator. We have Hugh Jackman as a ‘villain’ which is a first for Jackman who never plays villains. Sigourney Weaver is on board as the head of the corporation that builds the robots. She has a small role, which lately is all she’s been getting, but that’s okay with me because due to her small part in Chappie, she’s just started working with Blomkamp on the next installment of the alien franchise, which I’m all kinds of excited about. Every alien movie is different, because there’s always a different director behind the cameras. I’m looking forward to Blomkamp’s take on the alien universe, I’m sure robots will be involved somehow. As far as Chappie goes, it was an enjoyable entertaining ride with something relevant to say. The effects work was fantastic, I loved the way Chappie looks, it’s a cool design. Chappie looks very similar to the robots on Blomkamp’s early short film Tetra Vaal (2004); which by the way served as the basis for Chappie. So far, Blomkamp hasn’t let me down as a director, looking forward to his future films. It’s fantastic to count with a director who so far has totally devoted himself to the science fiction genre, haven’t had one of those in quite some time.
Rating: 4 out of 5