29 Sep 2015


It has been two months since I have written a post and I apologise to you, both my readers, for my tardiness. However, I have not been to the movies for a while as I am about to become a father.

Huzzah us!

Unfortunately as I am not independently wealthy I have had to cut back on a lot of luxuries in order to prepare for a wee mouth to feed; wine that costs more than $11, leaving the house other than to go to my public service job, and sadly, regular visits to the movies. But speaking of bringing new life in the world I just watched Chappie. 


In a dystopian future the Johannesburg police department has deployed robots to help them manage skyrocketing crime (although this sounds more like a Utopia for J-berg really).  The deployment of the "Scouts" is incredibly successfully, and Devon (Dev Patel), who created the Scouts, is now looking at the next step in robotics and computing, Artificial Intelligence (A.I.).

Devon, frustrated by his employers refusal to recognise his dream, steals a broken Scout and drives off to test if his A.I. programme would work. However a gang of thieves kidnap Devon as he is leaving with the stolen Scout, in the hope that they can use him to disable the robotic police force.  Devon explains that he can’t ‘turn off the Scouts remotely’ but if he lets them activate the broken Scout with his test programme it could help them.  

Ensue Robotic hijinks.

Chappie is written and directed by Neill Blomkamp who previously brought us the magnificent District 9, and the exceedingly disappointing Elysium.  Thus it was with mixed feelings that I sat down to watch Blomkamp’s next film.  I have to say I was surprised how film drew me in. Blomkamp’s depiction of Chappie from the moment he was turned on, all the way through his development was, for a lack of a better word, enchanting. You cannot help but love Chappie. I felt the same way about Chappie as I did about Wall-E, it was hard to justify the affection I had for this childlike robot but there it was. Blomkamp’s depiction of Chappie learning and experiencing life as a new sentient being was truly inspiring.  

This was helped byYo-Landi, a gang member who even though she is a violent thief, Yo-Landi recognises that Chappie is a vulnerable child, and her maternal instincts kick in. Yo-Landi starts to love Chappie so do we as the audience.  

However while I watched and enjoyed this I couldn’t help but find this film starting to seem very familiar. Then the parallels with the 1986 film Short Circuit became more and more apparent.  If you haven’t seen it, Short Circuit is a 1986 comedy about an experimental military robot that gets hit by lightning and comes alive. Sure the premise is similar, and I can forgive that, but about a third of the way through Chappie, I felt as if I was now watching Short circuit.  

And the similarities to other films do not stop there. There is also the obvious parallel to the 1987 Sci-fi classic RoboCop, which is about a cop, who after being mortally injured has most of his body is replaced by robotic parts. But overcomes his robotic programming and regains his humanity. Sure, this is a little familiar, but not that similar. However the bad guy in RoboCop (well one of them) was a big merciless robot known as the Ed-209. The bad guy in Chappie is Devon’s rival at Tetravaal, Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman). Vincent is an ex-soldier turned engineer who has developed a huge robotic drone, the Moose, to be deployed by the police.  The Johannesburg’s Police, though, are happy with the Scouts and feel that Moore’s Moose is to over powered (it can shoot down planes.) The thing is the Moose bears a striking resemblance to the Ed-209.

Now all of these are slightly minor criticisms. Of course a movie about a robot policeman becoming sentient is going to be compared to any movie about robots. Is the Moose modelled after the Ed-209? Probably, and while Chappie’s similarities to both these films is more than obvious and a little jarring it is not it’s biggest problem.

Blomkamp is a great action director and his sympathetic portrayal of Chappie is simply marvellous. However his focus on Chappie’s story come at the expense of most of the other characters. Dev Patel is a simple two dimensional caricature of Chappie's creator. Patel is a great actor and his talent is simply squandered. The same goes for Sigourney Weaver. Michelle is a bit part, and apart from attaching Weaver’s name to the movie there seems little point from her being in it. Which is a crime really, as Weaver is a good actress who gets no scope or opportunity to show it.

Hugh Jackman is the same. His character, Moore, seems lacking, and his motivations confused and simple. He resents Devon because of the Scout's success at the expense of the Moose, sure, but given the current climate and scientific debate about the future deployment of Robots in combat situations over human controlled drones I feel that Blomkamp missed a major thematic opportunity here. 

That aside Moore’s Moose is a ridiculously overpowered weapon with little practical application in urban police work, but it seems perfect for the military. It seems weird and stupid that a company that specialises in manufacturing weapons doesn’t think to approach the military with the Moose? "Hey boss I have created his heavily weaponised drone that can level a medium sized town. Let's make it a policeman!" Chappie also suffers from villain overload, with Moore and Hippo vying for the top spot, with Hippo becoming quickly irrelivant to the plot. 

The end, which I will not discuss here,  makes no sense at all. Thematically or logically. Yes the premise of the film asks us to suspend our disbelief with Robots and A.I., which we do because the narrative gives us a world in which we can believe this is the reality. However the end goes completely off the reservation buth plot wise and thematically. 

Blomkamp made what could have been a great film about A.I. and sentience and also compassion and then ruins it by bringing up the theme of what is consciousness? It is almost like he didn’t know quite know how to end the movie at all.

While it starts strong and Blomkamp depiction of Chappie is probably the best example of the genre ever, the movie suffers from plot holes, wasted actors and a ludicrous finale.

Four Monkeys. 

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