As always, Spoiler Alert
My feelings about Chappie can be summed up like this:
That’s not a critique of the movie, mind. The movie itself is more of a ‘meh.’ It’s not bad, but it doesn’t much stray from ‘okay’ territory for its entire run.
Except for the titular character, Chappie, performed brilliantly by Sharlto Copley. It’s Chappie that I watch the movie for, and Chapppie that makes me feel all the feels.
Chappie is a dystopian film set in Johannesburg, which has supplemented its police force with AI-powered robots. Deon (Dev Patel), designer of the AI program, works on his own time to improve it, to create a robot that can learn and feel. When he succeeds and asks his boss, played by the always fantastic Sigourney Weaver, for a robot to test it on, she tells him no.
So he steals one.
The test is a success, but things are complicated when the sentient, childlike robot, Chappie, is kidnapped by Ninja and Yo-Landi, a couple of gangsters portrayed by Ninja and Yo-Landi Visser of the South African band Die Antwoord. Deon, whom Chappie calls his ‘maker,’ fights to stay in contact, doing his best to stand up to the gangsters that Chappie calls Mommy and Daddy.
Everybody wants something different from Chappie – Deon pushes him to learn and grow, Yo-Landi treats him like a child, and Ninja is every inch an abuser who only sees Chappie’s potential value to him and insists the robot help ‘do heists.’ It’s heartbreaking to watch Chappie pinball amongst them, trying hard to please them all, and failing because it’s impossible to satisfy their disparate demands.
Also heartbreaking is Chappie’s personal journey. He’s essentially a child, since the AI starts as a blank slate designed to learn from its surroundings. One of the things he learns is how short his time in this world will be, as the robot Deon stole was an unrepairable one slated for destruction, whose battery will run out in a matter of days and cannot be replaced.
And that’s what makes Chappie worth watching. It’s not the plot. Deon’s story is that of the stereotypical computer nerd. The story line behind the gangsters’ big heist is a series of clichés. And the narrative involving the film’s actual villain and his even bigger robot blunders along more in the realms of silliness than sinister. (Also, said villian is counterintuitively played by Hugh Jackman with an even more counterintuitive mullet, which doesn’t help.)
But Chappie? Chappie is all of us. His few days of existence is our lifetime in microcosm. And while the film doesn’t definitively answer any of his (and, by extension, our) big questions – such as why his maker would create him in a flawed body, or why there’s so much anger and hate in the world, or where people go when they die – it’s enough to watch him learn what questions to ask in the first place, and strive towards resolving them for himself.
To see other posts in my venture to watch my movie collection in alphabetical(ish) order, click here.