When I first saw previews for CHAPPiE, I convinced myself that this was just a modern day Short Circuit 2. Though both films share similar themes and plot points, Neill Blomkamp ultimately delivers a more dramatic and satisfying look at humanity.
On its surface, CHAPPiE is about a reprogrammed robot that is able to think and learn. Chappie (voiced by filmmaker and actor Sharlto Copley) starts the movie as Scout 22. The Scout becomes damaged in the line of duty and is scheduled for demolition. Fortunately, its “maker” Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) decides to use the damaged body to test his new artificial intelligence. Before he is able to complete this task, however, three criminals (Ninja, Yolandi Vi$$er, and Jose Pablo Cantillo) kidnap Deon in the hopes that he might show them how to turn off the mechanized police force. They eventually discover Chappie in the back of Deon’s van and decide to have the robot help them with their upcoming heist. Meanwhile, Deon’s coworker and rival developer Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman) attempts to discredit the Scout program in order to get more support for his failing robotics program.
It’s easy to assume that this story is about the dangers of artificial intelligence or even about robots in general. But really, this film is a reflection on humanity instead. We are asked to explore all the good and bad sides of people. And we see this in the characters that are around Chappie throughout the film.
In Vincent, for example, we see humanity’s drive, dedication, and determination. But we also see how those qualities can lead someone to do despicable things. With Ninja, we see a heartless individual willing to do whatever it takes to survive. But then, in the end, we also see him willing to sacrifice his own life so that Chappie and the others could flee. In Yo-Landi, we see a motherly figure who is too weak to keep Chappie from doing the wrong things. In Deon, we see another person who truly cares for Chappie, but ultimately it is his very human mistakes that cause the problems for the characters in this film. I should note that many times throughout this story, we also see how fear, hate, and mistrust of authority come into play with peoples’ treatment of Chappie and the other scouts. Some of which cause Chappie to question why humanity is doing these things to him.
Another way this movie reflects on humanity is by showing Chappie going through various stages of life itself. When Scout 22 is first introduced to us as Chappie, he is very much a child. Like a newborn, he is unable to speak and learns by imitating those around him. As his gets older, we see him learning from his “mother” Yo-Landi, from his friend Amerika, and from watching television. We also start to see him receive more formalized education in the form of Deon’s training.
We also see that Deon’s influence (like that of school) is unable to extend far beyond the classroom. Sure some major life lessons are taught by Deon, but ultimately, Chappie’s understating of self is more affected by those around him at home and by his own experiences.
We really see this in Chappie’s teenage phase. By now Chappie has learned to form words on his own. Some of Chappie’s mannerisms and speech patterns come from copying his friend Amerika, but you can still see a great deal of individualism too. At this point, we also see Ninja entering the picture as a father figure attempting to toughen up his boy. Though he was always the discipliner in Chappie’s early stage, it isn’t until now that Ninja really shapes the man that Chappie will become.
We eventually see Chappie mature into an adult, capable of making his own choices. At this stage, Chappie starts fearing his own death, and we see him looking for ways to extend his life. He finds immortality by transferring himself into a new body, which is a metaphor for childbirth. So, in this film, we have seen Chappie go from being a child at the beginning to creating his own children at the end.
Another way this film is a reflection of humanity though is to look at its religious imagery. Religion and humanity are often tied closely together. In this film we see Chappie’s relationship with his maker Deon change throughout the movie, like humanity’s relationship to religion. At first, Chappie is afraid of his maker. He learns to accept his maker’s teaching though, and even promises to do no evil because that is what his maker had asked. Faced with his own eventual mortality though, Chappie questions why his maker would put him in such a fragile body. He begins to doubt his maker’s teachings and the very promises he had made to that creator. Ultimately, his later actions will lead to the death of his maker, and in the end, we see Chappie remaking Deon in his own image.
At the beginning of the film, we see have a lot of exposition in the way of newscasts. This documentary format is an effective way to get much of the film’s back-story out quickly. Considering that the movie was still nearly 2 hours long, it is important to have this information dispensed quickly. I really liked the fact that the movie also had a newscast near the end as well, giving us that bookend.
Much of the overall visuals in this film were great. I loved the anime feel to Chappie’s design, as well as that Japanese cartoon-like ending, complete with that big mecha boss fight. The special effects and CGI was very polished in its grittiness and the music by Han Zimmer was bold, hip and urban.
But the highlight of this movie for me was certainly Chappie’s dialogue. In the end, I give CHAPPiE a 3.8 out of 5. It’s definitely worth another trip to see.