“Don't let people take away your potential Chappie.”
Chappie is Neil Blomkamp’s highly anticipated follow up to Elysium and District 9. His first film has become a favorite for science fiction fans, but Elysium failed to connect with many audiences. Neil himself said that he felt he messed up with Elysium, but I still found it engaging despite its flaws. Chappie has a similar style and feeling to his other movies where he introduces us to a dystopian society and presents a rather gritty glimpse of the world. His films are always fun to look at, but his screenplays seem to have some flaws. The greatest problem with Chappie is that it doesn’t seem to establish its tone or target audience. At times it seems very cartoonish appealing to a younger audience and very reminiscent to the heart and cheesiness of Short Circuit and then during other moments it becomes dark and violent reminding us of scenes from Robocop. This tonal shift doesn’t work well, but the title character is so appealing that I was invested in the film despite not caring too much for the rest of the characters.
Blomkamp creates these dystopian worlds and uses science fiction elements to make some sort of critique towards our society. His films tend to play out as metaphors and at times they are a bit too obvious like in Elysium where he criticizes the enormous gap between classes where the rich get the best medical aid and the poor are left out to dry. In District 9 his criticism was geared towards the division of classes as well as racism. Here, I felt like Chappie played out as a sort of metaphor on religion where you have this conscious robot created by mis maker, but when raised by the wrong people he drifts and wastes his potential. There are several themes scattered throughout the movie where Chappie questions the decisions of his creator that I found similar to the questions that religion raises at times about our humanity and purpose in life. There is also an underlying message of the dangers of militarization as you have Hugh Jackman’s character wanting to implement human controlled robots with heavy machinery in the police force. I may be looking too far into this movie, but those were my initial perceptions.
Dev Patel plays Deon, one of the engineers responsible for creating these police droids who are replacing humans in the force. He develops a program that will give the robots a consciousness of their own, but when his boss (played by Sigourney Weaver) doesn’t give him permission to test the robots, he decides to program one on his own. Just when he does this, he is kidnapped by a group of gangsters (Ninja, Yo-Landi Visser, and Jose Pablo Cantillo) who want him to shut off the robots so they can execute a heist. Seeing that he doesn’t have the power to do so, they end up taking the robot, which Yolandi names Chappie and raising it themselves so they can use it to their advantage. In the meantime, there is a former military named Vincent (Hugh Jackman) working for the same company as Deon who is trying to get his project approved which consists of a human controlled robot with far advanced weaponry.
Chappie is voiced extremely well by Sharlto Copley who also does some of the robot’s movements and gestures. He is the highlight of the film, but as much as I enjoyed the character of Chappie and watching him learn and experience things like a child I found several flaws with the screenplay and the rest of the characters. The gangsters are portrayed as these sort of unlikable characters who we are later supposed to care about. They are actually in this film more than Patel, Jackman, and Weaver, and it does become a problem because the film begins to shift in tone. Poor decisions are made such as the idea of letting Deon go after being kidnapped knowing that he knows who these people are and where they live. Hugh Jackman’s character is very poorly developed and does some things in the company that no one else seems to mind, but I know wouldn’t be tolerated in a normal work setting. There are many decisions like this that don’t make much sense, but that only serve the purpose of moving the story from one point to the next which the film does rather quickly. Even the security measures in the company are very dubious and the more you think about the holes in the plot the less you will enjoy it, but as long as you are engaged with Chappie’s character and his development you might be entertained and forget the problems the film has. I still had a good time, but I can see why audiences might not care much for this.