Lowdown: The world’s first conscious AI falls into the wrong hands and gets manipulated by criminals.
With just a couple of movies under his belt, Director Neill Blomkamp has made a name for himself already. Between District 9 and Elysium, his is a strong brand of movie making: dystopian, gritty looking science fiction that is closely tied to his South African origins. His third film, Chappie, smelt like a dud in comparison: a movie about a funny Short Circuit like robot? What’s going on, man?
Then I got to actually watch Chappie.
Then I got to actually watch Chappie.
Chappie is born when his inventive creator (Dev Patel) wants to test out this artificial intelligence software he’s been developing at his spare time at home. The creator tries to gain the support of his boss (Sigourney Weaver) at the weapons company where his day job is, but she’s completely disinterested; he should focus on his successful development of robot policemen instead of such dangerous distractions, she says. Pressed for choices and extremely curious to see what his code can do, the creator raids a damaged police robot set to be scrapped due to a broken battery. His experiment works: Chappie, the result of running the creator's code on the broken hardware, is the world first self conscious AI (artificial intelligence). And at this stage, it behaves exactly like a human newborn, still unfamiliar with what this world has in store.
It’s a pity then to see Chappie fall into the hands of criminals (portrayed by Ninja and Yolandi Visser, real life South African couple and rappers whose characters share the names of their actors). These criminals are desperate: they have to repay their debt to the criminal lord of Johannesburg or he will kill them, and their only way of shortening the odds and getting that money as they face the policemen robot adversaries is to have Chappie on their side. Thus Chappie finds himself raised and educated by lesser scholars, if one could call them scholars.
To make things more complex, that weapons company we’re dealing with has another inventor on its hands, Vincent (Hugh Jackman). His brutal police robot, equipped with weapons as far reaching as surface to air missiles, is deemed unsuitable (the idiot should have pitched his stuff at Ferguson's authorities instead). Vincent has to live with a grudge, seeing himself on the losing side to Chappie’s creator, and a mallet. When Vincent notices the creator acting weird, his old army instincts kick in as he senses an opportunity to make a name for himself and his version of a police robot.
C happie borrows a lot from many science fiction classics, so much so it felt unoriginal. As already mentioned, our hero robot bears more than coincidental resemblance to Short Circuit’s Number 5. Then there's Chappie the robot being portrayed Andy Serkis/Golum style (by Blomkamp’s regular Sharlto Copley). The concept of the police human like robots as well as the much scarier not so suitable for the police robot comes directly off Robocop. While the notion of a humanoid like being created with a limited life expectancy has been explored before in a movie called Blade Runner. So, does all this borrowing, mixed together into a very Paul Verhoeven like movie, mean that Chappie is a losing affair?
No, not at all. Chappie is a big winner, because it takes all the elements of its predecessors and combines them into a brand new creation that dares to ask that good old question of what it is that makes us human and does so in a lovely, fascinating and original way.
Chappie’s story is one of biblical magnitude. The Cain and Abel affair running between Chappie’s creator and Vincent is very much like the one from the Bible, only that in this take the creator also acts as the God that created an imperfect being that is doomed to die prematurely and the Abraham that is sent by God to sacrifice his son.
Then there is the whole setup of the weapons company acting as an analogy to human society being so grid driven it will invest in weapons but not in things that actually make humans better. And our vile criminals, Ninja and Yolandi, in whose hands Chappie is corrupted? They turn out to have much more good in them then those weapons company people that are not only legal but are also there to allegedly maintain the rule of law. Seriously, is this a world worthy of having innocent Chappie in it?
Not a disappointing, unoriginal movie at all; Chappie is a wonderful mashup in the best sense of the word that asks questions of vast importance and relevance to the citizens of today’s world.
Chappie fully deserves 4.5 out of 5 artificially intelligent, self aware, crabs.