“This is a new kind of life form, a new step in evolution.”
I was a big fan of Neill Blomkamp’s District 9. But that’s nothing special. Everyone who saw Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 tended to be a big fan of Neill Blomkamp’s District 9. What is a little less common, is to have been a fan of Neill Blomkamp’s follow up, Elysium. Which I was. Where critics saw clunky, on the nose political metaphors, and audiences just seemed underwhelmed, I saw a pretty entertaining action, sci-fi flick. Where Elysium got negative attention, Blomkamp’s latest got something much worse. It got no attention. So while I was pretty apprehensive about finally seeing Chappie, I just kept reminding myself that so far, Blomkamp has a 100% strike rate as far as I’m concerned. Chappie can’t be all that bad, can it?
A few years ago, crime in Johannesburg got a little too out of hand. So the police force bought a fleet of robotic scouts from a private corporation of weapons designers, headed up by Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver). The scouts prove to be a massive success and the city orders more and more. Which is great news for their original designer, Deon (Dev Patel). The more success his scouts have, the more chance he has of being left alone to develop his new project. Deon is positive he’s on the verge of creating artificial intelligence.
That’s bad news for his workplace rival, Vincent (Hugh Jackman). An ex soldier and dead against the idea of A.I, Vincent is pushing his plans for drone style robotic law enforcement, that would be controlled by actual people. So when Deon’s constant success with his scouts only makes Vincent’s designs seem less and less viable, he starts to dig into Deon’s research, looking for some dirt.
All the while, some criminal scumbags (played by Saffa rappers / scumbags Die Antwoord) are desperately looking for a heist that will make them the 20million rand they need to pay off another gangster. Constantly thwarted by the scouts in the past, they decide to kidnap Deon and force him to make them a remote control that will turn the scouts off. While his design is too secure to make that an option, he compromises by combining his latest artificial intelligence programming with the body of an almost scrapped scout. While the gangsters want a robot to do their criminal and violent bidding, what they get is an innocent, fresh, child like mind inside a metallic body. What they get, is Chappie.
What I liked most about Chappie is the idea that just because intelligence is artificial, that doesn’t mean it is created fully formed and all knowing. Chappie doesn’t have the world’s knowledge immediately downloaded into his brain. He has to learn things, he has to deduce things, he has evolve. And that’s really interesting to watch.
The artificial intelligence movie of 2015 that, if not revered, will at least be remembered longer is Ex Machina. And I get that. It’s darker, more thoughtful and filled with quiet, actorly moments when the cast gets to brood in that critic friendly way. And sure, Die Antwoord turn out to be even worse actors than they are rappers. But I just didn’t care. Because Chappie is fun, exciting and just a good nuts and bolts action sci-fi movie.