by Jimmy King
CHAPPiE, recently released in U.S. cinemas and directed by Neill Blomkamp (District 9), is the latest science fiction movie to explore artificial intelligence. What sets this film apart from others that center around A.I., though, is that upon activation this robot—called Chappie—learns as if it were a child. It has a conscience and can think, feel, and hurt. It can be excited, sad, and happy without direction from any person. The human characteristics which it embodies are truly unique in this genre, and movie-goers can really get attached to it, as though it is human. This robot is brought to life purely, knowing tolerance and goodness, but is eventually taught bad habits and how to hurt people by witnessing human interaction—it does what it sees. Chappie gets manipulated and even bullied at times, which can be difficult because it’s almost like seeing a child being mistreated. I fell right into the animators’ trap while watching this emotionally riveting and visually amazing achievement.
In CHAPPiE, robots have become the police force in Johannesburg, South Africa. They can act on their own and are virtually indestructible. Dev Patel’s character, Deon Wilson, is a software designer and creator of robots that work for the State. He wants to develop machines that can think actively and function as humans do—an advancement from passive bots that are simply controlled by human operators. The company for which he works is not amused by his ideas, as it is a weapons company. He breaks the rules to see his vision take form and, as you might imagine, all hell breaks loose. Patel gives a nervous and sweaty performance, which sometimes seems over-the-top opposite veteran superstars Hugh Jackman and Sigourney Weaver.
Jackman is not navigating unfamiliar territory in this film. He recently did Real Steel, which featured a robot which was quite human-like, as well. Jackman is the movie’s antagonist, which is a nice change for him. He also gets to sport an awesome mullet in this one. Coiffures aside, though, one could honestly dislike his character in this movie, and that’s pretty tough to do with him. Jackman plays Vincent Moore, who works for the same company as Chappie’s creator. He focuses on an older type of technology that is passed over by the robot police force. His jealousy gets the best of him and he sets out to make everyone see that his way is better. Upon trying this, he jeopardizes the entire company and a lot of people die in the process.
Weaver’s character, Michelle Bradley, shows up as the company’s CEO who rules with an iron fist. She says “no” a lot in this movie, but in the end she gives in, attempting to clean up the mess that has been created by the software designers of the police robot force. As one might expect, Weaver uses her typical no-nonsense approach and deep voice to make viewers pay attention to her. (Does it need to be mentioned that she’s no stranger to sci-fi movies? She did a couple of little projects called Alien and Avatar.) She doesn’t have a ton of screen time in this one, but Weaver gives a strong performance, as usual, and her character makes a statement.
CHAPPiE is not overly slick. Its shaky camera movement might create problems with one’s equilibrium at times, but this lends to the overall the feeling of the movie. It has a lot of action and movement, including loud explosions, which one might expect from a sci-fi thriller. The movie is set in the near future instead of the distant future, which makes it seem a little bit more real—or at least believable—than some sci-fi flicks, as if this type of story could play out within our own lifetimes. The cast showcases a few impressive names, but Chappie is the real star of this show and is missed when not on-screen. The real hook of this film is seeing this humanized robot grow, evolve, and eventually find its own way, just like a child would.
My grade for the movie is A-. If you like science fiction, then I would recommend it highly. It’s fun and moving at times and after watching it, you may find yourself wanting your very own CHAPPiE.
Cast and crew:
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