Chappie (aka CHAPPiE) (2015)
Directed by Neill Blomkamp
Based on Tetra Vaal by Neill Blomkamp
Watkin Tudor Jones & Yolandi Visser (aka Die Antwoord)
Jose Pablo Cantillo
Running time: 120 minutes
Plot Synopsis: (via IMDB)
In the near future, crime is patrolled by an oppressive mechanized police force. When one police droid, Chappie, is stolen and given new programming, he becomes the first robot with the ability to think and feel for himself.
I’m not sure if anyone has noticed but I’ve been on a real A.I. movie kick the past few months. This is a favorite topic of mine in films so, despite some very negative reviews, I still wanted to see Chappie as I’ve been looking forward to it for ages. I really liked Blomkamp’s District 9 but missed out on Elysium (and still haven’t watched it as we all know how well received that one was). I’ve not yet fully read any reviews of Chappie (other than a good one from Writer Loves Movies defending it HERE) but I’ve read just enough to get the general idea: most people hate Chappie almost as much as Elysium while a small minority are defending it. Well, I guess I’m in the minority. I really enjoyed Chappie and think it deserves more credit than it appears to be getting.
Remember that this is a favorite topic of mine within my favorite genre so I’m going to automatically like it more than some will. Plus, the last A.I. movie I saw was the disappointing Autómata. Chappie is a heck of a lot better than that one but certainly isn’t as good as Ex Machina, my favorite film of the year so far, or even Daft Punk’s Electroma (which is awesome. seriously. no one read that review – that movie should be more well known!). Yes, Chappie is basically Short Circuit except that Ally Sheedy & Steve Guttenberg weren’t South African rappers calling everyone “motherfuckers” all the time. Actually, that would’ve been hilarious. Who’s Johnny, motherfuckers?! (Sorry, Mike – I had to make the Short Circuit comparison as everyone is. At least I didn’t mention D.A.R.Y.L. or… Hardware). 😉
I found Chappie interesting in that it actually explores the morality issues involved in creating self-aware artificial intelligence in a slightly different way than other similar films. Okay – this topic has been explored so much now that it’s very hard to be truly unique but even Ex Machina is guilty of not really bringing anything “new” to the table in the A.I. debate. Chappie treats Chappie (the robot) as a child who needs to be nurtured just as a human child would be. There’s talk of consciousness and “souls” (and violence & how to deal with crime, etc, making this not only like Short Circuit but also RoboCop). Overall, there’s probably a bit too much going on as far as all the various morality issues involved in creating advanced crime-fighting A.I. that whatever Blomkamp’s overall point actually is gets lost. The bits with the film’s two biggest stars, Sigourney Weaver & Hugh Jackman, are the weakest parts and I think more focus on the “Chappie as child in its formative years” thing would have been better. These are the most “human” parts of the film and are oddly touching. Chappie (again, the robot) is done very well – he looks great & his character is very well developed to the point that you DO feel for him. He’s no WALL-E but he comes closer to achieving that than I expected (I adore WALL-E). He’s as likeable as Short Circuit‘s Johnny 5 but with much more personality (and swearing). The most important thing to get right, in my opinion, is the character of Chappie himself & I think the film did a very good job there.
I think the thing that may turn some off this film is the use of South African rap duo Die Antwoord (Watkin Tudor Jones & Yolandi Visser). I’ve known of them somewhat over the years through a couple of their songs & fucked-up videos and find them intriguing. When I heard they’d be in this film, I assumed it would be in smaller roles but they’re really the main stars. If you don’t take to their characters, you probably won’t like the film. Funny thing is, they end up being the best things about it (after Chappie, of course). These two crazy, swearing, “cartoonish” looking criminals end up feeling just as much if not more “human” than Dev Patel as Chappie’s “Maker”, while the film’s big stars (Weaver & Jackman) end up feeling like the cartoon characters. Or maybe that’s the point? I don’t think so… I think Weaver’s & Jackman’s roles are just very poorly written. It’s a shame, really, as it detracts from the more interesting central theme of A.I. consciousness & nurturing its development.
I thought Chappie was a solid sci-fi film and managed to explore the usual A.I. themes we’ve seen in countless other movies in a somewhat unique & quite entertaining way. It’s a weird kind of mish-mash of the heartwarming aspects of Short Circuit & WALL-E with the ultra-violent cartoonish-ness of RoboCop. This may be putting some people off, however, as the film seems a little confused as to what it wants to be. Sigourney Weaver’s & Hugh Jackman’s poorly written “baddies” aside, I enjoyed the over-the-top violent action film aspects but especially liked the more “human” aspects of watching Chappie become self-aware & start to develop his own personality. I know Chappie won’t work for everyone but it worked for me.
My Rating: 7.5/10
Gotta say this may be my favorite tattoo on Watkin Tudor Jones (aka Ninja) 😉