Movie Review: Chappie

Chappie is the story of a robot brought to life by one kidnapped scientist and three brutal gangsters. Given an upbringing like that, he turns out better than you’d think.

In 2016, the police force of Johannesburg, South Africa deploys robotic officers to turn the mounting tide of crime. One robot, Scout 22, is hit with a grenade and is no longer fit for service, but the robots’ creator, Deon Wilson, steals it for his personal artificial intelligence project. Unfortunately, Deon is kidnapped by a trio of gangsters (two of whom seem to be South African rappers playing versions of themselves) who want him to shut down the robots (which is not possible). With no other options to save his life or his creation, Deon uploads his artificial intelligence program into Scout 22, which immediately takes on a conscious, but infantile demeanor.

Named Chappie by one of the gangsters, the robot say his first words within minutes, learns to swear overnight, and (through the forceful encouragement of the gang leader) how to handle guns and knives the next day. But Deon stays in the picture, doing his best to teach Chappie about the finer things, like reading, painting, and morality. Soon, though, Chappie is surrounded by danger on all sides, between his own defective battery, the gangsters, and Deon’s ruthless rival, Vincent, who will stop at nothing to get his own super-robot up and running. Chappie must grow up fast to save himself and his dysfunctional family.

Usually, I find myself agreeing with the critics on the quality of movies, but this film is an exception. I consider Chappie to be Neill Blomkamp’s best work, better than both District 9 and Elysium. Maybe it’s because I’m a big fan of the Short Circuit films, which I also consider to be underrated. (I definitely see parallels between Chappie and both Short Circuit films, but nothing that smacks of a complete ripoff.) Maybe it’s because I have a particular affinity for robot/AI-centered movies. Whatever the reason, I thought it was very well done, far better than most of the critics’ assessments. In particular, I thought that Chappie’s progression from infant to young child, older child, teenager, and finally adult, and his ensuing interactions with his human “Mommy”, “Daddy”, and “Maker”, were brilliantly executed, making him seem so human while still keeping him clearly a super-intelligent robot at the same time. I wouldn’t quite put him on the level of Johnny 5, but Chappie is still an instant classic of the robot world.

My rating: 4 out of 5.

As an afterthought, I will add that I’m a little perplexed by the film’s tagline: “Humanity’s last hope isn’t human.” Humanity is never in danger in this movie. The robot police are never even hinted at being oppressive by anyone except the gangsters they’re hunting down. However, there may be another side to it. If you think about the implications of the end of the film, I think it may be Fridge Brilliance.

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About Alex R. Howe

I'm a full-time astrophysicist and a part-time science fiction writer.
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