Way back when Chappie had its first run of theatrical previews it appeared to be a benevolent robot story. There have been others: A.I. Artificial Intelligence, The Wizard of Oz, Forbidden Planet, Short Circuit and Bicentennial Man.
All were well made and consistent, except for A.I. Artificial Intelligence – a rare Steven Spielberg misfire. As Chappie grew close to releasing the previews took a darker turn. Now it appears to be a violent thriller like Robocop.
Director Neil Blomkamp is from Johannesburg – an extremely dangerous place – and most of Blomkamp’s films take place in Africa. His best-known films to date include Oscar-nominated District 9 and Elysium.
Chappie tries to be all things to all robots. Chappie is played by Blomkamp favorite Sharito Copley, star of the frightened-aliens-with-a-secret-plot blockbuster District 9. The other stars include Sigourney Weaver, playing the business-woman-in-charge, English actor Dev Patel, best known for his game contestant role in the Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire, and Hugh Jackman, who plays a frustrated robot inventor whose big idea and big robot have been denied their chance. If you don’t want to see Patel in Chappie, he’s also star of The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which opened the same day as Chappie.
Invented by corporate scientist Deon Wilson (played by Patel), Chappie (voiced by Copley), is a failure as a robot and headed for the scrap heap. He is one of a group of robots known as “Scouts” that are replacing the Johannesburg police department. The city needs an army of robots because widespread crime gangs are running rampant.
Complications occur and Chappie falls into the hands of one of the gangs. He’s just learning everything for the first time and ends up adopting a gang persona. This adds humor to the film, as long as you think a robot wearing Mr. T chains is funny.
The gang needs money and makes use of Chappie in its heist scheme. Beyond that, it’s up to you to go to the theatre or wait for the DVD – which box office results indicate is what everyone has decided to do.
Chappie himself is a brilliant character. The humor in the film comes from his stumbling to learn about human life and how to live it. Unfortunately (and this is the reason for the R rating) a lot of the film becomes very violent – with shootings, stabbings, explosions, crushings, and tearing people apart. Many of them deserved what they got, but I’m not sure this is the direction this seemingly benign tale needed to go.
If you want to see a cross between Bicentennial Man and Robocop, this is your film. It does take a strange twist at the end, trying to become a parable about consciousness. I got the violent stuff, but the ending was way over my head.
Rated 2.8 out of 4.0 reasons that if you come to a fork in the Yellow Brick Road, do what Yogi Berra said and take it. Note: Next up Neil Blomkamp directs Sigourney Weaver in yet another film in the Alien series.