MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Chappie’ Is Another Blomkamp Original

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Film: Chappie
Starring: Die Antwoord, Dev Petal
Direct by: Neil Blomkamp

Though it falls ever-so-short of the heights reached by District 9, Neil Blomkamp’s latest science fiction epic is a wholly entertaining experience unlike anything you have ever seen before.

Opening in a world where artificial intelligence is far more advanced than it is today, Chappie wastes no time introducing audiences to a world not too unlike their own. Instead of taking a giant leap in time, we’ve only moved forward a small number of years, and in that time a man from South Africa has perfected robots who can replace traditional police officers. They’re known as ‘scouts,’ and though they are not fully autonomous, they do perform far more complex activities than any machine you have seen before. Their creator however, still wants more. He wants to create truly sophisticated, self-sufficient AI that can learn, feel, and make their own decisions.

Enter Chappie. A one-time ‘scout’ for Johannesburg police, the robot that soon becomes the focus of Blomkamp’s film is initially sent to a crusher after catching a tech-damaging bullet while procuring criminals. He’s saved by the creator of the robots, Deon, so that he may test a new artificial intelligence program he has developed on his own time. It works, but not before Deon is kidnapped by criminals hoping to use his knowledge of robotics to shut down the scouts that have essentially stopped all major crimes in the city. When they realize what Deon is attempting to create, they turn their focus to training the newly autonomous robot to do their bidding. The only problem is, the newborn robot is far more child-like than one might expect. He can barely do anything when first turned on, and it takes more than a day before he’s able to fully grasp what people are trying to convey. He is, for lack of a better description, just like a newborn child.

As time goes on and tensions between Deon and the criminals continue to escalate, the robot known as Chappie begins to better comprehend the world around him. He learns to walk, talk, and soon begins imitating the people he sees. This leads to many heartwarming moments of growth, as well as several moments of hilarity, all spread in between sequences of people discussing the pros and cons of allowing true artificial intelligence to exist. Is a robot that can learn a good idea? Is mankind’s influence on machines what leads them to do wrong? Would robots only do good if they were able to make up their own minds? Not all of this is answered in a definitive way, but each topic is thoroughly explored at length over the course of the film’s near two-hour runtime.

Not everything works in this near-future alternate reality, but there is far more good than bad, and almost nothing that I would write off as being a complete misfire. The multiple plots, while engaging, never connect as cohesively as the viewer may desire. Also, the decision to cast Die Antwoord as alternate versions of themselves is one fans of the group will likely adore far more than those unfamiliar with the genre-bending duo. Yo Landi fits in well enough as the mother figure for Chappie, but Ninja’s gruff edge and near complete inability to sell a single moment of emotion other than aggression causes the story to lose steam time and time again. That said, their unique personalities help the universe Blomkamp presents come to life. They showcase another side of mankind most people never see, and that alone makes their presence worthwhile.

It’s a little hard to ignore the fact that Blomkamp has been essentially working in a field entirely his own for the last decade. While others fight over the right to direct or pen the next blockbuster sequel, reboot, or comic book franchise, Blomkamp has been churning out original sci-fi adventures every few years. Each has told an entirely different story, and each has had its own massive amount of original ideas and designs at play, but the one thing tying them all together has been Blomkamp’s love of metaphor. District 9 was essentially a two-hour think piece on how we view immigration in the modern age, while Elysium touched on the tension between various economic classes. Chappie, his latest, uses the story of a child-like robot to showcase the dangers, as well as world-changing possibilities, of artificial intelligence.

While I am sure there will be some who write off the life of Chappie as something that could have been much bigger and more bad-ass, I believe Blomkamp’s latest creation to be his best work to date. It’s heartfelt, imaginative, and more than willing to challenge the ideas of robotics and morality you have been raised to believe. More importantly, it accomplishes all this while telling a truly original story that is brought to life with the latest, state-of-the-art technology. If you want spectacle that is equally matched with heart, look no further than this film.

GRADE: A-

Review written by James Shotwell

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the founder of Under The Gun Review. He loves writing about music and movies almost as much as he loves his two fat cats. He's also the co-founder of Antique Records and the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. You should probably follow him on Twitter.

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