Neil Blomkamp’s latest creation Chappie is in theaters today, and it explores the much-debated subject of artificial intelligence in robots.
Chappie tells the story of the world’s first thinking and feeling robot and his quest to survive despite being hunted by a number of outside forces. The gritty film is similar to District 9 in its theme. Where District 9 explored aliens as beings who were just looking for new homes (not to conquer our world like we thought), Chappie explores a human-like robot as a being who just wants an emotional connection and safe place to exist.
There are plenty of films that villainize robots, suggesting that if they are given the power to think and feel on their own, the world as we know it would be doomed, Chappie explored another side of that. What if robots with thoughts and emotions ended up not being so different from us after all? What if they wanted nothing more than a place to be accepted? As soon as Chappie is programmed, he exhibits emotions that will make viewers sympathize with him. Although he’s much smarter than a human, he still has to be taught and acclimated into the world. Throughout the film his character is more reminiscent of a young child, easily manipulated, eager to please his “parents” and generally confused about a lot, because most experiences are new to him. There’s one scene in particular that was pretty rough to watch, but shines a light on how humans react to things they feel are different, and begs the question “In a world where thinking robots exist, who would REALLY be in danger?”
Sharlto Copley, who also starred in Blomkamp’s District 9 and will star in the upcoming series Powers, is the voice of Chappie. The South African actor did a great job of bringing life and emotion to a character that couldn’t express it through any other methods than his voice, and even that was limited to a degree because, you know, robovoice. Sigourney Weaver gave a good turn as Michelle Bradley, the hard-nosed boss of the weapons company that’s responsible for the invention of the new age robocops. It would honestly be hard for her to not have nailed this role, because we’ve seen her play it many times before. Dev Patel was adorable as the ambitious Deon Wilson and maker of Chappie. Although watching Hugh Jackman portray a bad guy was a little jarring, he certainly did a good job of making his character Vincent Moore annoying and dislikable. As the too-cool-but-not-actually-that-cool office villain, between his terrible (and distracting) mullet and jealousy issues (he was Deon’s rival, trying to create an equally popular robo-enforcer), the guy never stood a chance of being anyone’s favorite character.
The film’s main trio of “villains” were played by Jose Pablo Cantillo (whom some of you may recognize from his stint on The Walking Dead) and Ninja and Yolandi of Die Antwoord, the rap-rave act who basically play extreme versions of themselves. You’ll notice my quotes around the word villains. That’s because although the trio are unmistakably bad and into some questionable dealings, especially their leader Ninja, as far as Chappie is concerned the three take on familial roles, letting audiences see the softer and funnier sides of these hardened criminals. You can tell that Ninja and Yolandi haven’t had much acting experience outside of this film, but as the movie progresses, the two seem to somewhat find their footing.
My biggest issues with the film are its excess of bad guys that were directly related to the plot, as well as the stance it takes on the subject of a soul and consciousness as programmable and transferable data. With regards to the villains, it was like villain-ception. There were bad guys hunting bad guys hunting bad guys. There were street thug bad guys, dog-fighting bad guys, kingpin bad guys, mullet-rocking bad guys and more! I understand the premise of the film is that the crime in Johannesburg is so rampant that the robopolice force is necessary, I didn’t feel that the plot needed THAT much going on as it relates to Chappie. The consciousness subject is one that could open a whole new can of worms that I’m not 100% sure Blomkamp really wanted to get into during this particular film. It’s set up for a sequel, however, so we’ll see how he addresses it moving forward, assuming there will be a Chappie 2 (which I’ve expertly titled Chappie the Sequel: Robot Family).
Overall, Chappie is an enjoyable action film with heart. Although it has its issues, ranging from too many villains to getting a little too deep for its own good, there’s nothing so major that it should stop viewers from being able to appreciate the story.
Photo Credit: Sony/Columbia Pictures
Video Credit: Youtube