Main cast: Sharlto Copley (Chappie), Dev Patel (Deon Wilson), Hugh Jackman (Vincent Moore), Ninja (Ninja), Yolandi Visser (Yolandi), Jose Pablo Cantillo (Yankie), Brandon Auret (Hippo), and Sigourney Weaver (Michelle Bradley)
Director: Neill Blomkamp
It’s sad to see, but Neill Blomkamp may fizzle out faster than M Night Shyamalan and the Wachowski siblings. Those other directors-scriptwriters-everyman types at least have 2 or 3 critically acclaimed films under their belt, but Mr Blomkamp is making it easy for people to say that District 9 is probably a lucky shot, or an anomaly. Chappie has no shortage of action and robots, but it lacks nuances.
It is 2016, and Tetravaal, a robotics company based in South America, unroll the Scout robots – mechanical cops that serve as very efficient front line troops in crime-ridden Johannesburg. The development of the Scouts is the greatest triumph of Deon Wilson’s career, but he is not done yet. Shortly after the movie opens, he successfully developed a program that successfully mimics and improves on human conscience. When CEO Michelle Bardley pooh-poohs her request to test the program on one of the Scouts, he decides to “borrow” a security key and brings home a robot marked for destruction, Scout-22, to play with it.
Meanwhile, we have three gangsters – Ninja, his girlfriend Yolandi, and their friend Yankie – are in trouble with the local crime boss Hippo because of a drug transportation gone awry thanks to the Scouts. They need to find twenty million dollars for Hippo in a week, and Yolandi comes up with a plan to find some kind of remote that can switch off the Scouts. So, these three decide to kidnap Deon, and they do, just as Deon is going back home with his Scout-22.
Deon ends up activating Scout-22 with the conscience program uploaded. Yolandi calls this robot Chappie, and soon develops maternal feelings for that tin can. Meanwhile, Ninja is furious when Chappie refuses to take up arms and become a useful ally in his planned heist for the money, and decides to get rid of him. If that’s not enough, bitter Vincent Moore discovers Deon’s theft and plots to destroy Deon and the Scouts so that his own robot can finally get the spotlight he feels that it is entitled to.
The trouble with Chappie is that it is a movie so preoccupied with delivering heavy-handed messages. I feel like I’m being hit with a jackhammer repeatedly throughout the movie. The sad thing, these messages are the same ones present in every other sci-fi stories and movies these days. Humans are the worst brutes ever, we are our worst enemies, that kind of thing. Chappie plays the innocent martyr, being bullied and abused even as he remains doggedly loyal to his abusers – that same kind of role that robots and cyborgs have been playing since the last few decades, as if these people haven’t been telling me that humans are all monsters and brutes despite the advances we’ve made all this while. Oh, and technology sucks too, because we can’t trust machines, although humans are even more untrustworthy, blah blah blah. To cut it short, this movie has plenty of say, but that “plenty” is composed of tired trite “very important messages” that have been shoved down everyone’s throats since people stopped having fun when it comes to sci-fi movies.
These messages falter because the script – written by Mr Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell – relies on caricatures to drive them home. They want Ninja to go from villain to ambivalent antagonist, for example, but Ninja is such a cartoon lunatic type that his transformation is laughably unrealistic and abrupt. Yolandi is probably the most sympathetic character here after Chappie, but she’s also a one-dimensional character with poorly-defined motivations; she often goes from hoodlum chick to implausibly wise and maternal mother figure like she’s bipolar or something. Hugh Jackman’s villainous character is so over the top nasty that he’s all snarls and hisses.
There are some interesting questions raised here, mostly related to our god complex and whether morality is actually a crippling hindrance in a dog-eats-dog environment, but it’s hard to go all profound and deep when the caricatures running around on screen have all the depths of a puddle. Oh, and the last half hour or so of the movie has me torn between snorting in derision and or laughing at the whole over the top nonsense of those scenes. While it is conceivable that one can transfer human consciousness from the brain to a machine – it’s all electricity, after all – the movie introduces the concept in a way that is best described as “Magic!” in the script doesn’t even bother to introduce some pretense of science to back up this development. Just Chappie learning how to do this by scanning the Internet. Apparently entire textbooks are available for free online.
Chappie is a brainless movie that wants to be smarter and more profound than it actually is. It is more similar to any random movie featuring some loyal pet being abused by humanity and nature, but it pretends that it is Blade Runner or something. The sad thing here is that its try-hard pretensions are too obvious, and nature abhors a wannabe.
On the bright side, Hippo’s kinda hot.