Directed and co-written by Neill BlomKamp (District 9, 2009) Chappie is set in The Republic of South Africa in the near future, more specifically in Johannesburg. Faced with ever growing rates of lawlessness and violence the South African police purchase a series of android robots from a local company headed by Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver, aliens 1986), these robots are fully mobile AI’s with human interfaces to help control them. Initial trials and usage are going well. Crime rates in the city fall and criminals are genuinely fearful of them.
The opening sequences tell you straight away that you are in a BlomKamp movie with the by-now familiar camera styles. With his opening shots we see how law and order is being restored. In the middle of this we meet drone 22 (who will become known as Chappie), who is severely damaged in deployment and sent to the scrap heap. As this is going on Deon Wilson (Dev Patel, Slumdog Millionaire, 2008) the engineer behind the androids has been working on a full AI program for the androids and has finally cracked it. He is prevented from trying his latest work on any of the robots. As this happens he is facing competition from inside the company in the guise of Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman) who has developed a remote controlled ground drone which is basically a walking tank, full to the gunnels with high grade armoury, however his program is cancelled because of the success of the drones.
If life was not hard enough, some of the local criminals, suffering from the effects of the drones decide to Kidnap Deon to force him to shut down the drones. As luck would have it they kidnap Deon when he has a van load of spare parts in the back of his van, while he is getting out of the Lab so he can build his own full AI unit with his new software installed. Once captured, it becomes clear he cannot help them, but it is discovered that he has the making of an android in his van. He agrees to help them build it so he can fit his own AI software in to the brain.
They agree reluctantly, the leader of the gang, Ninja (also called Ninja today) wants the android for a big hoist. His friend Yolandi ( Yo Landi Visser, Focus 2015) develops a soft spot for Chappie as he grows. After some struggles Chappie (played by Sharlto Copley, District 9, 2009) has his AI brain and begins to learn how to behave in the human world. Ninja feels no emotion for him and treats him like a weapon basically, trying to train him to be an effective killing machine, Yolandi on the other hand develops a maternal bond with the ‘droid.
All this happens against the gang trying to plan their biggest Hoist, Deon not trying to get caught, and Vincent Moore discovering what is really happening and then planning to kidnap/destroy Chappie. As the movie develops is grows into three strands; the relationship with Chappie as he develops essentially following the characteristics of a truculent teenager; the training of Chappie by the gang despite attempts by Yolandi and Deon to “humanise” him and keep him away from violence. The third strand is the rivalry within the company and the attempts by Moore to discredit the androids and have his system used.
This of course culminates is a disaster for the city of epic proportions which ends up with Moore and his robot battling Chappie and his gang. While this is going on Deon’s work on AI have sparked Chappie’s interest and he himself manages to progress it. Ultimately they develop the ability to transfer a human conscience in to an artificial brain, this might be able to help them in their fight to survive.
I am trying hard not to ruin the plot line. I watched this shortly after watching Ex Machina (see below) it is interesting to see the take on artificial intelligence and how we as a society are prepared to live with it. Whereas Ex Machina had science and suspense, Chappie has action and a reflection, despite all that is going on we begin to see Chappie in an almost “human” light.
On the negative side, there are one or two small issues with the film, despite being in South Africa, the majority of the cast is white, Dev Patel (English of Indian extraction), something which considering the film is shot in South Africa was noticeable. One other aspect is what I would consider a hole in the story “Security” aspect. The facility where the robots are made seems to be totally incapable of any type of security (which facilitates the storyline) but this causes a certain weakness in the film. I should also point out the film does nothing to advance Johannesburg’s reputation internationally, rather cementing it as the violent city it is often known for.
That said, the movie manages to capture the discussion on what constitutes “humanity” and the nature of being, having a soul and the next life. Are we humane just because we are human, is the soul the preserve of humans?
6/10 An entertaining movie with some excellent special effects, but still somehow managed to give the feel of a small budget production. Overall quite watchable with some rough edges round the corners, perhaps deliberately.