Chappie is an unusual sci-fi movie by Director Neill Blomcamp that achieves a good balance among action scenes, computer-generated effects, and social commentary. Blomcamp says he likes using science fiction films to get across some of his sociopolitical points. As in District Nine and Elysium, he shows the effects of robots on people, a city where crime has gotten out of hand, and the evil intentions that lurk in the minds of some. He has stated, perhaps cynically, that it is likely to be robots that save the world; not the human mind.
Patel plays the part of Deon, a scientist working in a robot production plant. His dream is to create consciousness in Chappie as a scientific and humane advancement. He requests to do this with a robot that is going to have to be destroyed, but the CEO (Weaver) denies him that right. Going against her refusal, he surreptitiously takes Chappie home to experiment. Unbeknownst to him, an envious co-worker, Vincent (Jackman), sees what he has done and makes plans to sabotage him. At the same time, a group of thugs (including an utterly charming and intriguing blonde female, Yolandi) have the bright idea of stealing the remote control for a robot to enlist its help in a heist that will be necessary to pay off another thug, and they zero in on Deon and Chappie and kidnap them.
This part reminds me of Oscar Isaac’s character in A History of Violence, where he has the best of intentions, but he is constantly being thwarted in his efforts to stay honest and lawful. At any rate, Deon tries to program the robot not to harm anyone, thinking he can trust it not to be contaminated by the crooks. He explains to them that Chappie is like a newborn child who needs to be trained in understanding language and proper behavior. This delights Yolandi, whose motherly instincts surface and she teaches him to call her “Mommy.” It is quite hilarious to see Yolandi and her mate Ninja trying to get around Chappie’s “maker’s” instructions. For instance, when it refuses to shoot a gun, they introduce a knife and tell him he can use that, and it will put the person into a nice sleep.
Eventually, chaos reigns in the city when the nasty Vincent deprograms all the police robots and a reign of criminal terror begins. There are long gun battles among various groups, including Chappie, the police, Vincent, and even the gentle Deon. Consistent with Blomcamp’s hunch that robots will be able to solve our knottiest problems, Chappie does indeed come through and helps to save the world.
Hans Zimmer’s music and a South African rap-rave group, Die Antwoord, achieve a very fine accompaniment to the story. Blomcamp has consistently used the cinematographer Trent Opaloch in his films to enhance the artistic effects. The motion-capture sequences with Chappie (Copley) are fascinatingly realistic.
A sci-fi film with substantive social points.
Grade: A- By Donna R. Copeland