Chappie: The Underrated Underdog
I went into Chappie with caution as I heard it had received some not-so-favourable reviews. But it just goes to show you that reviews are as they always have been: subjective! I loved Chappie. Much like Neill Blomkamp’s other films (which I also loved) it was action-packed, thought-provoking sci-fi at its best. Like Elysium and District 9, Chappie retains much of his previous two films’ themes, settings, actors, and ambiance. So it’s safe to say if you liked those movies, you are probably going to like this one too.
The story opens with a news broadcast covering the state of things in Johannesburg, South Africa. The police force there has failed against an ever-rising crime rate, so the government calls upon a robot-cop force to supplement its human counterparts. Chappie is one of these robots who, after being scrapped and slapped with a “reject” sticker, receives and experimental AI upgrade from his engineer, Deon. But before Deon can test his new sentient droid, Chappie is stolen from him by three impulsive criminals who need his super-robot abilities to help them defeat a gangster kingpin whom they are indebted to. Upon stealing the robot, however, they soon realize that Chappie’s AI software has basically made him a toddler, learning to mimic the ways of his criminal “parents” in order to foster his own thoughts and feelings, just as a human child would.
This odd combination of childlike innocence and hard-bitten gangster is what makes Chappie such a loveable character. Although you know it is just his software talking, it is nearly impossible not to feel empathy for the metallic man. Voiced by Sharlto Copley (who also stars in Blomkamp’s other two feature films), Chappie reminds us of the confusion and wonder of childhood, and how hard it is to remain innocent in a world full of hate and corruption.
Dev Patel’s performance as Deon, Chappie’s maker, was the one part of the movie that I felt was a little lacking. Throughout the movie, he was a difficult character to connect to, and I’m not sure if that was a fault of his acting, or just the fault of his character. He was even outshined by two non-actors, rap duo Die Antwoord's Yolandi Visser and Watkin Tudor Jones who played two of the three gangsters that kidnap Chappie. Visser, whom Chappie refers to as “mommy”, is an interesting mixture, just like her robot. She is at once maternal and criminal, and in caring for Chappie becomes torn between keeping him safe and saving herself. Hugh Jackman was also fun to watch as he played the villain, a rare casting choice for him.
Despite Chappie’s critiques, I was thoroughly entertained by this movie. To see Chappie’s “mind” develop from that of a wary and wondrous child to an intelligent and self-aware adult is truly compelling. That premise, coupled with Blomkamp’s dystopian satire that we know and love, is what makes this film unique. Critics be damned—give this underdog a shot. You might be surprised.
You can find Chappie on Execulink’s VOD channel (ch.100) from June 16th to December 31st, 2015.