Oh, the joys of parenthood are always thrilling to see on the big screen! Especially when “the creator” is not a divine being, but a passionate, mild-mannered robotics expert played by Slumdog Millionaire’s Dev Patel, the “parents” are a trio of thugs who are only motivated to get rich quick by any means necessary, and their blessed bundle of joy is a sentient police robot named Chappie played by the director’s favorite star, Sharlto Copley. Chappie is a movie with a lot of character and heart, and while it was not quite the movie I was expecting, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Like any film directed by South African-native Neill Blomkamp, Chappie takes place in near-future Johannesburg, South Africa, where the police department has just employed its first all-robotic police unit made by Tetravaal. Deon Wilson (played by Patel), an engineer at Tetravaal and inventor of the police droids, is enjoying the success of his creation and the accolades from everyone except for rival engineer and former soldier Vincent Moore (played by the Wolverine himself, Mr. Hugh Jackman), who is jealous of Deon and angry with the rejection of his own robot drone dubbed the “MOOSE” (which is not a very intimidating or flattering name in my personal opinion), which is basically a walking tank that requires a human operator’s thoughts to operate via a special helmet. When Deon successfully develops an advanced artificial intelligence able to develop emotions and abstract thought like humans, he proposes installing the A.I. into the police droids to Tetravaal’s chief Michelle Bradley (played by Sigourney Weaver), to which she refuses. After his latest project is rejected, Deon takes matters into his own hands and steals a broken down droid to carry out his tests with his A.I. program,but plans go awry when Deon is intercepted by Ninja and his gang who have their own plans. Initially, Ninja wants to coerce Deon into shutting down the entire police droid force so that he and his partners will have an easier time executing their heist in order to pay off a crime boss known as Hippo, but when the crooks discover the broken police droid in Deon’s van, they decide that having the droid work with their gang would suffice after Deon tells them their original plan would not work. When Deon activates the droid, installing his new A.I. into it, it awakens with what he describes as the intelligence of a newborn but much smarter, as it picks up on speech and associations at an accelerated rate. In the process of teaching the robot, Ninja’s girlfriend, Yolandi, names the robot “Chappie” and also calls herself “mommy”. From there, an awkward and abusive relationship forms between Chappie’s creator and the new family as they share custody of Chappie and the responsibility of teaching him. While Yolandi has a mother-child bond with Chappie, Ninja and his partner, Amerika, still view him as a toy or tool and become frustrated with his slow progression into the weapon they need, so they decide to toughen him up and leave him in a bad end of town where he is brutally attacked by a group of boys, and later captured and maimed by Moore (probably the saddest scenes in the movie, as you might associate them with the abuse of a child by other children and by a stranger in the back of van). Following his return home, Chappie is traumatized by his experience, but Amerika manages to repair him and Ninja proceeds to train him in melee and armed combat. Eventually, Ninja and Amerika trick Chappie into committing crimes for them and they do succeed in getting the money they need, but when Moore succeeds in his plot to shut down the police drones so that his MOOSE can steal the spotlight, other criminals in the city, including Hippo, become emboldened and chaos breaks out. This culminates into one great three-way battle between Ninja’s small band of miscreants, Hippo’s gang, and the MOOSE, operated remotely by Moore. Looking at Hugh Jackman’s Moore as an army vet first and an engineer second makes his approach to the “war on crime” with the MOOSE a bit more understandable since you see just how much he seems to enjoy slaughtering other people. The final confrontation between Chappie and Moore, and the final scenes involving Chappie’s devotion to save his creator and his mother are all very touching in different ways, and I took a lot away from the movie because of it.
While Blomkamp’s success is mostly attributed to his earlier films Elysium and District 9, the former did not enthrall me the way the latter and Chappie did. The Blomkamp-Copley combo does seem to be a recipe for success in films though and there is no denying that. Blomkamp is a champion at capturing the flaws and greatest assets of humanity with his writing and directing, and Copley has excellent versatility as an actor as demonstrated in his roles as an awkward hero (District 9) , an insane villain (Elysium), and the voice of a childlike robot. Chappie is a movie that draws out far more emotion than Blomkamp’s previous films, as the titular character alone made me laugh out loud, tear up in a manly way, and pump my fist. There are also themes you can pick out such as child development and family, the dangers of man playing god, and the meaning of sentience. The only thing that fell short of myexpectations based on the advertisements was the robot battles, but violence was limited in favor of emotional depth so it is forgivable this time. I usually like to keep my reviews shorter than this, but this movie is one worth talking about for years to come and as long as Blomkamp and Copley continue to make films like this one or better then I will remain a devoted fan. And as usual I have to say that if you have not seen this movie yet upon reading this review please give Chappie a chance.