Wow, there are going to be a lot of people who hate Chappie. Thing is, I’m not one of them, but I can understand why they do.
Chappie is the latest film from director Neill Blomkamp and follows Elysium, which most people weren’t happy with and District 9, with which most people were. Since Blomkamp has recently been brought on to salvage the Alien film series, a lot of people are hoping to use Chappie to decide if this is good or bad.
The first thing that you should understand about Chappie is that you aren’t going to get the film promised in the trailers. The trailers imply that you’re going to get a story about the first Artificial Intelligence gaining consciousness, growing up and, eventually, being persecuted for not being human. What you actually get is a story about a robot child growing up with gangsters. Yep, gangsters.
Chappie is set in South Africa (like all Blomkamp’s films), where crime has gotten so bad, that the police have deployed robot “Scouts” onto the streets. These robots have been very successful at reducing crime but their designer Deon Wilson, played by Dev Patel, wants something more. He wants to take the basic software in the scouts and turn it into a true consciousness. His boss, played by Sigourney Weaver points out that an arms company has no interest in a robot that can write poetry and refuses to let him work on it. Deon then steals some parts and heads home to do it anyway.
So far, so predictable, this is the movie you’re expecting. However, on his way home, Deon is kidnapped by gangsters wanting him to create an off switch for the scouts. Deon tells them this is impossible but he could create an independent, thinking robot that might help them. Having brought Chappie to life, the gangsters then kick Deon out and Chappie is left to grow up with them.
For me, this was an audacious and brave choice – to not go down the expected road and instead tell a story that is different. Not so much about being human but about the effect of nature and nurture on development. If you want an examination on being human as some of the trailers suggest, then I highly recommend Ex Machina instead because Chappie doesn’t even try to cover that ground. Similarly, if you want man vs. machine then Robocop does it better. Chappie is really a blend of Short Circuit, Robocop and A.I. and because it never really focuses on any one of these aspects, the tone goes all over the place. As I say, I found this refreshing but I suspect many others will hate it.
When the action sequences come, they are top-notch, gripping stuff. Blomkamp sticks with what he knows and he does sci-fi action very well, in a down to earth manner that makes it feel real. Yet sticking to what he knows also causes problems; the South African accents come thick and fast, making it hard to make out what is said at times, to the extent that some characters even get subtitles to help you understand, and I suspect many people will be put off by this. In casting his friend Sharlto Copley as the voice and sort of motion capture role of Chappie, things have worked out great. Copley is a talent and brings a childlike innocence to Chappie while keeping the South African flavour. However, casting Blomkamp’s rapper friends Ninja and Yo-Landi as the gangsters was far less successful, if not outright indulgent as they never really live up to Copley’s class.
This film is such a mixture of tone, quality, talent and story that I simply can’t guess how popular it will turn out to be. I suspect most people will come away thinking that it’s decent but there are so many aspects that could put you off that I really can’t tell.
Let us know what you think in the comments below.
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