How hot messes should be done.

by Steve Pulaski

Chappie transports us into the near future, where the high crime rate in Johannesburg, South Africa calls for the acquisition of a series of armor-plated, artificially intelligent, humanoid robots that serve as the town’s indestructible police force. The robots cannot be hacked and are trained to shoot, arrest, and detain law-breaking citizens. The robot’s designer Deon Wilson (Dev Patel), a young and successful engineer, is detested by another engineer by the name of Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman), who’s own plan for a robotic police force under the name of “MOOSE” failed when Deon’s robots were brought into the market, due to the enormous size and scope of his own creation. Deon is now working on creating a robot that has a consciousness and can think and feel like a real human being.

Directed by
Neill Blomkamp
Sharlto Copley, Dev Patel, Hugh Jackman
Release Date
6 March 2015
Steve’s Grade: B+

One day, Deon is kidnapped by a group of gangsters, Ninja (Ninja), Yolandi (Yolandi Visser), and Yankie (Jose Pablo Cantillo), who want the fictional “remote” for Deon’s robots in order to shut down the robotic police force. When Deon informs them no such device exists, he gives them the prototype of the robot he’s working on, equipped with a sound consciousness and human feelings. The gangsters agree to have Deon make infrequent trips back to their lair so he can train the robot, but the ultimate goal for the thieves is to use the robot to assist in heists and petty crime. The robot is named Chappie, and due to it actually having the ability to think and feel, it needs to be taught like a child the very basics of life. The film shows the four attempting to train the robot and the constant game of tug of war Deon plays with the three goons, which keeps pulling Chappie back and forth between a life of good and morality and a life of violence and destruction.

Now with three films under his belt not only establishing his affinity for science-fiction but his love for dystopian worlds that, he claims, take place only “ten minutes in the future,” director Neill Blomkamp has affirmed with District 9 and now with Chappie (Elysium, to this day, is unseen by me) that he can make a science-fiction film with commentary, humor, entertainment, and, most surprisingly of all, a soul. Chappie may be a hot mess of a film, throwing together silly comedy with grotesque violence, action, suspense, and futuristic drama, but it’s a hot mess that shows other disastrous cinematic hot messes how it’s done. Being that the film revolves around training a robot how to live, survive, and learn the basics of existence, it’s only logical that a film about the sorts be filled with so many different genres, and writer/director Blomkamp (along with co-writer Terri Tatchell) handle almost everything effectively.

In addition to having an intriguing paradigm of humanity and technology coexisting when one is surpassing the other in terms of efficiency, Blomkamp also offers a real emotional core to the film’s characters and character relationships, particularly that of Deon and Chappie. The two form such a strong, sensitive relationship with one another, despite being burdened by such a colossal danger with gang involvement, that the two carry out one of the most tender portrayals of a human’s friendship with a humanoid that I have yet to see. While a devoted team of visual effects workers definitely have Chappie covered in a sense that it can be a visual spectacle, with the action scenes remaining clear and vibrant rather than muddled and incoherent most of the time, it’s Blomkamp who surprises with his ability to evoke human sensibilities into a story I feared would lose it all in the shuffle of slambang action.

To digress just a bit, Chappie‘s marketing was something of a spectacle in itself. When trailers first surfaced, they didn’t portray the film’s ideas adequately, rushing to show glimpses of the more suspenseful moments in the film to hopefully gain the widest possible audience. The first poster, showing Chappie decked out in bling and surrounded by children’s building blocks, looked almost as if this were a silly kids film. When the second trailer of Chappie premiered, which I had the pleasure of seeing at least a dozen times since the beginning of this year, seemed to hit the nail on the head, portraying the man vs. machine conflict in a much greater manner. Finally, Chappie was awarded a much-deserved R-rating from the MPAA, which helped finally solidify some good spirits about the film from me, seeing as it took its idea all the way and exercised its full ability to be creative and gritty.

The film is a winning blend of several genres, and should be look onto by those who wouldn’t venture out to see such films of the like. Science-fiction fans will likely appreciate it, but, being someone who doesn’t normally embrace these kinds of films with open arms and glowing praise, I feel the market who has long felt themselves rundown by the ubiquity of these kinds of films will see the merit and value in a film like this (the kind Kingsman: The Secret Service will most likely bring to someone who has grown weary and fatigued by the onslaught of superhero films). Not only does Chappie provide some hope for original science-fiction in the near future, it also provides for diversity in multiplexes and a more attractiveness to those who feel outside of the loop on the majority of the particular releases of this genre.