There is a much better movie trapped inside the confines of Neil Blomkamp’s latest film ‘Chappie’. Now, that may not sound like much of a rousing endorsement, but it’s the truth. ‘Chappie’ is not a bad movie. As a matter of fact, I would really like to see it again. However, that does not change the fact that several elements of this screenplay prevent it from being the film it could have been and may cause some to dismiss something that is quite special at its core.
You see, it’s not like we have not seen other films about robots gaining consciousness or what that means. This film is actually littered with sequences that echo older and better movies (Robocop, Short Circuit). Yet, Blomkamp seems more interested in using that concept to explore human nature, violence, and what consciousness really is. Sadly, he doesn’t succeed completely in what he sets out to do, but I like watching talented filmmakers fail quite a bit more than I like watching mediocre filmmakers succeed.
The story in ‘Chappie’ takes places in the not to distant future and there are essentially two parts that meld together. The first is intriguing. A major corporation (headed by Sigourney Weaver) has figured out how to create robot law enforcement agents and have implemented them in Johannesburg, South Africa. Which is apparently the biggest shit hole on the planet based on Blomkamp movies. Anyways, one robot seems to get screwed up more than the rest and is designated to be destroyed. That is, until a brilliant designer named Dion (Dev Patel) figures out the key to an A. I. that can think for its self and needs a robot to test it on.
The second part of the film is the weakest and also depressingly takes up the majority of the screen time. A stupid group of local gangstas think they can make a lot of money by using the robot to heist a van filled with cash. What they don’t know is that the robot is an infant and needs to learn. This heist and these characters (played by some poor South Africans rappers named Ninja and Yolandi) seem to be the main part of the plot after a while. Which means that the audience has to put up with their annoying, stupid, and hateful attitude in order to also experience Chappie’s wonderful learning narrative.
Luckily, the voice acting done for Chappie is so brilliantly done by Sharlto Copley that you can forgive the annoying setting he has been thrown into. You will also find yourself laughing at some of the infantile humor that comes with Chappie learning dirty language. Yet, it’s not until the movie lets Chappie out into the real world, and into the hands of Hugh Jackman’s vicious Vincent Moore, that the movie real begins to shine it’s dark light. What Chappie goes threw is an illumination of the horrible nature of man and works to not only shine a light on how poorly we treat each other, but how violent we can be towards things we don’t understand.
It’s not all sadness and violence though. Chappie is a wonderful and sometimes cute character. Which means there are a number of fun scenes along the way to lighten the mood. There is also a wonderful electronic score by Hans Zimmer to give the film a real pulse. Oddly enough though, I didn’t really decide that I would fully recommend this film until the last 20 minutes. Those stupid gangstas really irked me quite a bit, but the last bit is so good that if be crazy not to tell you to see it. I won’t ruin it for you, but let’s just say that the film explores the idea of what truly makes us alive and it’s quite brilliant in a way. There’s also a lot exciting action to keep the audience entertained.
So, despite some fairly big problems, I think Chappie is a movie worth seeing. It’s exciting and thought provoking enough to make up for its shortcomings and should entertain most audiences quite a bit more than us critics. Which is fine by me, because it will also leave them with something to think about.