“Chappie” Theatrical Review
Filmmakers love exploring the human condition. I mean they really love it. Especially when we view the human condition through something that is not technically human. Like robots or aliens or animals or aliens again or robots for the millionth time.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at Chappie. This movie focuses on a robot that has been programmed to have consciousness. He acts like a human! You don’t have to pretend to be shocked because I wasn’t either. I mean I’ve seen A.I.: Artificial Intelligence and I, Robot and Wall-E and The Iron Giant and…
OK you get it. It’s not a new premise.
In the movie we see Johannesburg, South Africa in the not too distant future. Crime rate is at an all time high. They are in the early stages of introducing a new robotic police force which is performing overwhelmingly beneficial.
The robots have been designed by Dion (Dev Patel) who also has a side project of trying to create consciousness and test it on a police robot that has been damaged beyond repair.
Criminals kidnap Dion, and (unknowingly) the robot, in hopes he can turn off the robots to make a heist easier and instead decide to use the robot in their lawbreaking escapades. Problem though: Chappie’s new consciousness software causes him to behave like a child with an accelerated learning rate.
The criminals have to teach Chappie about life and crime in only a few days for it to work. He knows nothing and is treated that way by some of his kidnappers. The poor robot even has a sticker that says “Reject” slapped on his forehead.
This movie has so many themes it’s hard to keep them straight. One is how a person’s ego drives them to do something that is questionable. It’s that age old question, “Just because we CAN do something, should we?”
Should Dion create the consciousness? Even if he should, his project is shot down, but he does it anyway because he wants to. Vincent (Hugh Jackman) has a robot rivaling Dion’s police robots, but can’t get project approval so he makes terrible choices just because he wants his project to work.
Another theme is nature vs. nurture. Dion is essentially Chappie’s nature because he created the consciousness and the criminals are his nurture. He is literally being bred for crime, but he needs to be tricked into it because his “nature” says crime is bad.
Another theme, like I said, is the human condition. Why do we love, hate, feel, fear death, and many other unmeasurable things that make us “human”? Chappie has an immense fear of “death” and tries to avoid it at all costs.
There is yet ANOTHER theme, of asking if robots have consciousness: what do we need humans for? There are so many themes in this movie it’s ridiculous and exhausting.
One of the really odd elements about the movie are two of the stars playing the criminals, Yo-landi and Ninja. Together they make the South African rap duo “Die Antwoord.” They play versions of themselves in the movie and their music is all over the soundtrack.
It is a confusing trait to have them so wrapped up in the movie. Not to mention there are reports of Ninja being so difficult for everyone to work with that director Neill Blomkamp had to literally change the movie to keep Ninja out of scenes with some actors. Their own acting wasn’t bad- Yo-landi shines more than Ninja- but what was the point?
While the themes are confusing and almost tired, it’s not such a bad film. Chappie is a compelling character thanks to the actor who played him, Sharlto Copley. He performed both Chappie’s motion capture and voice. Copley creates a little robot so sweet and innocent it’s hard not to love him. Halfway through the movie all I cared about was if Chappie was going to be all right; the rest of the story-lines didn’t really matter.
His animation is excellent too. His antennae move to match his emotions. They move down and back if he is scared or sad. They shoot upwards when he is excited or happy. He also has a metal bar that sits across his face which moves like eyebrows and really accentuates how Chappie is feeling.
This movie wants to be a beautiful story about what it means to be human and physical differences don’t matter, but it’s just one giant mixed metaphor with too many messages being thrust on you in a two hour time span.