Looking at the Pieces that Make up CHAPPiE, a Review

Chappie Movie PosterThe difficulties that many audiences may have with Neill Blomkamp’s Chappie is quite simply that nobody knows what kind of story he’s intending to tell. Is it a story about a dysfunctional family coming together or is it a movie about a troubled world besieged by gangsters? The trailers suggest one idea but the movie reveals another. The mix of Robocop with Transcendence does not quite make for an understandable universe and to have the subplots running independently is most likely the issue here. Somehow, it all has to come together.

The mobile robotic police force that protects Johannesburg is not without criticism. Either as a social commentary by Blomkamp or a juxtaposition to more issues that still lurk in his home country. Some followers of his works may wonder if he’s still in tune with the ills from home because he’s now living in Vancouver, BC. Whatever the case, this director is never above injecting a deeper meaning into his products. In this world he crafted, the gangster problem is out of control. If human cops are running around dealing with it, plenty of lives can get lost. But with robots, to see one get destroyed is not without compassion either. When one of them gets blown backwards from a shock grenade, audiences get to know this peace-keeper is not necessarily done for. Unit 22 gets slated for demolition because its battery has fused with the chassis.

Chappie Title Card

But when Dev (Deon Wilson), the creator of these robots, is working on a side project of creating a hyper artificial intelligence and needs a test subject, that’s when Unit 22 returns to the tale and earns himself a name. CHAPPiE wakes up with a new purpose. But as it progresses through an emotional re-awakening reminiscent of progressing through Hesiod’s Five Ages of Man, the sympathy viewers will have for what this robot represents will have some folks understanding this writer’s vision. Shades of Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics does not get programmed right away. Dev has all the right intentions for what his robot can represent for the future. He wants to teach it arts and crafts.

Blomkamp is hopeful that audiences will love this ‘bot, but Wall*E it is not (yet). WETA Workshop works some crafty magic, but without proper mechanical eyes versus digital, part of the soulful resonance in Sharlto Copley‘s motion capture performance is lost. He does a respectable job in some moments but not every scene works.

In a world straight out of the Japanese Animation Patlabor, where crimes with robots can be a problem. A petty criminal trio (who are in fact rap-rave group Die AntwoordYolanda Vi$$er and Watkin “Ninja” Tudor Jones who use their own names in this film— along with their buddy Yankie (Jose Pablo Cantillo) enter into the picture by deciding to steal CHAPPiE and Dev has a rival that he’s not aware of.

Chappie - Hugh Jackman

Vincent Moore’s (Hugh Jackman) jealous and bitter feelings towards Dev’s highly successful creation will prove to be his undoing. Although this character’s motivations are flat and contrived, Jackman does a great job at playing a bad guy. Everybody wants to hate him since he’s conspiring to undo Dev’s work. He wants his robot (that looks like it should belong in Robotech: The Macross Saga as a Mini-Destroid) to be the ultimate taskmaster to put down crime.

The world Blomkamp created is certainly a fascinating one. The anime influences become more prevalent and shades of Appleseed are noticeable when this movie enters into an epilogue that opens up possibilities for a sequel. What can get imagined for a second film — told in comics or a novel — should fare better than this origin story. The issues with this film lay more with how the subplots feel disjointed. Screen time between Dev, Die Antwoord and Moore are not equal. To know which subplot matters means realizing just who is pulling CHAPPiE’s strings at the time.

Chappie - Yolandi

The subtext about how dangerous artificial intelligence can become ala I, Robot gets lost in the action and character building moments between Yolandi (Vi$$er) and this ‘bot as they truly become mother and son. Father (Ninja) and son looks rather strained because all pops understand is tough love. He even tosses his kid to the wolves. Dev fares no better since he has to contend with problems at the office. Maybe his mechanized ‘labour force of police bots is not proving to be as well as it can be. While driving his SV-2 truck (fans of Patlabor will wonder if this marking is intentional) around to chase down CHAPPiE, Moore is not too far behind. Dev’s relationship with the crime trio never gets fully developed. When all the elements come together, the realization that gets displayed is that everyone is hiding behind insecurities.

There’s a reason Die Antwoord’s “Enter the Ninja” is used during the closing credits. The sample of Smile.dk’s “Butterfly” is prominently heard, and it only suggests there’s more to open and reveal about the world of Johannesburg if this director decides to revisit it.

3 Stars out of 5

Author: Ed Sum

I'm a freelance videographer and entertainment journalist (Absolute Underground Magazine, Two Hungry Blokes, and Otaku no Culture) with a wide range of interests. From archaeology to popular culture to paranormal studies, there's no stone unturned. Digging for the past and embracing "The Future" is my mantra.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: