Do you want to know why many urban American teenagers grow up to be violent nomads? See what happens to Chappie.
Chappie was everything that I didn’t think it would be. I truly respect the creative genius of Director Neill Blomkamp, and he dares to challenge your senses even when his camera occasionally wanders down the cinematic version of a dead end alley.
The film takes place in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2016. Police begin to use robots to help discourage crime on the streets, and it seems to be working. However, history has proven that robots have trouble behaving themselves.
The robots have been created by a genius scientist/engineer working for a company run by Sigourney Weaver. The young scientist is played by the talented Dev Patel, and he defies Ms. Weaver’s instructions as he tries to develop a robot with the intellectual capacity of a human being.
The title of this film is the name of Patel’s creation, a robot that resembles the young kid in Steven Spielberg’s classic A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001). However, just as Spielberg’s scientifically engineered boy had trouble finding a home in the real world, Chappie is also left to roam as he seeks meaning in his cruel surroundings.
The strength and weakness of this film flows from the fact that Chappie finds a family with 3 violent, tattooed street gangsters. Though viciously criticized by some reviewers, Chappie becomes a metaphor for the many teenager’s in American cities who lose their way as they identify with the streets. Like them, Chappie soon is led down a path that threatens his existence.
While there is nothing to love about Chappie’s demented role models, you start to form a bond with them despite hating yourself for doing so. Two of the villains, Ninja and Yolandi Visser, are actually South African Gangsta rappers whose multiple body tattoos are the real thing. In addition, Chappie begins to call Yolandi “Mommy” as she develops an attachment to him that transcends her taste for underworld violence.
Ironically, the only character in the film that you hate from beginning to end is played by the great Hugh Jackman. Working for the same company as Patel, he seeks to have his own personally designed gigantic robot, going by the name of Moose, employed by the local government. He and Mr. Patel are destined to tangle, and it isn’t pretty.
Mr. Blomkamp has directed two prior intriguing films, District 9 (2009) and Elysium (2013). District 9 was wildly entertaining and you watched a caring human doctor mutate into an alien as he tried to help them in their apartheid – like slum in South Africa. Chappie touches some of the same themes, although it falls short of capturing the emotional angst of Mr. Blomkamp’s first film.
It is impossible to give the plot away, as you have to stay on top of this film to have any chance of understanding it. Villains become good guys while heroes become villains, though I openly admit to liking a film that I hesitate to recommend.