Sunday, March 8, 2015

Chappie - Film Review with Spoilers


Movie Review

By Ken Parker


Being a fan of sci-fi, I have followed Neill Blomkamp' work, including his short subjects and absolutely love the look of his films. His 'realistic' look which often includes a poverty stricken Johannesburg contrasted with high tech weapons and technology, adds an unique signature to his films that people may either love or hate. The contrast of worker class and rich society was visualized in Elysium but has been present in all his films. His other themes include the alienation of different individuals, oppression and lack of communication. His latest movie Chappie has some interesting elements that make it different than his other films.


Chappie is basically about a robot that becomes sentient. Taking elements from the 1986 film Short Circuit, Chappie follows the early development of the robots personality and how it is influenced by family, religion and his own morals.

Set in a crime-ridden Johannesburg, we see the police force being supplemented by a new robot force that not only reduces crime universally but keeps the human police out of harm's way. One of the robot programmers, Deon, believes he has finally created a true artificial intelligence and takes a wrecked robot to experiment on. Desperate criminals kidnap Deon in hopes of finding away to shut down the robot force so they can perform a big heist. Instead they get the robot, along with its new A.I. Deon explains that the robot, dubbed Chappie, has the mind of a child and will need to learn. The criminals begin teaching Chappie how to perform the heist. Ninja, the leader, not only gives Chappie weapons training, but also teaches him how to walk and talk tough. Ninja's girlfriend, Yolandi takes a motherly role for Chappie who now sees the two of them as mommy and daddy. Deon, the creator, to a degree, is the morality for Chappie, almost the religious or moral figure. Chappie struggles with these polar ideals, trying to impress his 'parents' by doing what they want while also trying to remain good.

This struggle could represent many children growing up in criminal settings. How they must make decisions about committing crimes and being asked to hurt people to survive must be part of the equation.

While all this is going on, a rival programmer, played by Hugh Jackman, decides to corrupt the police force robots in order to get his heavy weapon design approved for production. Things don't go as planned and he sets his remote controlled robot (MOOSE) out to kill Deon.

Blomkamp's 2004 short, Tetra Vaal is basically the blueprint for Chappie but his other shorts Tempbot (2005) and Yellow (2006) also have some familiar connections.

Some of the dialog around Chappie's family can come off as being corny. I can see someone not buying into the concept of a robot becoming human with a criminal hard edged family.  If not bought, much of these scenes can come off as being silly.  Thankfully the audience I saw it with didn't seem to have that problem.

The way Chappie is treated and the way Yolandi and others talk with Chappie is almost humorous unless you can buy into the idea. Blompkamp is not a newcomer when it comes to presenting robots as real humans. His short Tempbot has a bit of humor as several humans go further in their treatment of robots and the Tempbot also goes too far. Could this theme represent a class or even a race discrimination and that different people are not treated the same.

The biggest pill to swallow, in my opinion is Chappie's dilemma that he has a limited life span due to a malfunctioning battery fused to his system. Any attempt to change out parts may destroy his consciousness or soul. Chappie does find a way find his 'consciousness' and develops a way to download it into another robot body. Also, he is able to download people's minds and soul into robots as well. Really???
Up to that point the film was incredible and so complete. This development seemed a bit far fetched and in a world of 'realistic' tech, the idea of downloading souls does not seem to fit. It changes the film from a pure sci-fi to a fantasy within mere minutes.

I still found the film to be highly enjoyable and think it is Blompkamp's best film yet. I feel the ending, while satisfying and happy, might have been a bit of a stretch. It was more of a change rather than a complete downturn. As time has passed since I saw the film, I have grown more accepting of this plot point and think the film would have been more depressing and real than how it turned out. Still, the final shot almost had me laughing at the idea of a sequel possibility – Chappie's Happy Family or the like.

The performances are good with Sigourney Weaver and Jackman playing second fiddle to the primary cast. I like this as he gives audiences something they were not expecting and while Weaver has often been playing minor parts of late in some movies, her supporting part in this gives others a chance to shine. Watkin Tudor Jones (Ninja) and Yolandi Visser (Yolandi) do a pretty good job in their parts even though they are by trade musicians. Dev Patel (Devon) also delivers his part with conviction. Sharlto Copley not only plays the part of Chappie's voice but also the motion capture for the CG. Sharlto is a staple for Blompkamp's films and again, he shines in the role.  The CG, by the way, is superb.  The robots are all CG and they just don't look CG at all.

I love the look and feel of this film. It is dark, futuristic and fantastical all at once. It has a fair amount of violence, crime and rough language along with some hilarious scenes. The morality of Chappie is in question as he ends up sticking to his belief in not killing and spares the one individual that probably deserved to be crushed.

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