Chappie's Intelligence is Purely Artificial
- Christian Hamaker Contributing Film and Culture Writer
- 2015 5 Mar
DVD Release Date: June 16, 2015
Theatrical Release Date: March 6, 2015
Rating: R (for violence, language and brief nudity)
Run Time: 120 min.
Director: Neill Blomkamp
Cast: Sharlto Copley, Hugh Jackman, Dev Patel, Sigourney Weaver
Director Neill Blomkamp always imagines a bleak future in his films, no matter the setting. District 9 told of an alien colony that arrived on earth in 1982 and was, by 2010, facing a grave threat. Elysium moved to 2154 for a story about social inequality. Blomkamp’s latest, Chappie, is set in "near future" Johannesburg, but once again, the landscape is far from pleasant.
The populace is patrolled by droids, but this robotic police force is not favored by everyone. Take, for instance, engineer Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman, The Wolverine), who has a "spiritual issue" with the artificial intelligence of these new robot cops. Although he works for, in the words of his boss (Sigourney Weaver, Exodus: Gods and Kings), a "publicly traded weapons corporation," he approves only of police robots that are controlled by human operators remotely.
Moore has his own version of the ideal robo-cop that he calls the Moose. But his frustrations multiply when his boss turns down Moore’s pleas for additional funding to perfect his invention, and after his co-worker Deon (Dev Patel, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) discovers a way to bring consciousness to the AI-powered robots the company has developed. Eventually dubbed Chappie, the protégé for this new breed of policeman is, according to Deon, similar to a human infant—a sponge waiting to soak up whatever influences are set before it.
Deon envisions a sentient being who appreciates art and literature, but things don’t go quite as he hopes. When a gang of criminals, led by a thug in desperate need of lots of cash, grabs Chappie and enlists the droid for a crime spree, Chappie complies. The robot just wants to please its new “friends.”
Moore, meanwhile, wants to prove that the Chappies of the world are a threat to humanity and must be destroyed. This leads to Jackman running around and looking over his shoulder for most of the movie—a complete waste of the actor in a role that’s close to an embarrassment.
Even worse, Chappie is yet another movie with a finale built around people typing on computer keyboards and waiting to see if they’ve broken into a system, downloaded a file, or something else static and anti-cinematic.
Chappie isn’t painful to sit through, but with so many underwhelming elements, it fails to generate any kind of enthusiastic reaction or to provoke thoughtful consideration of its ideas. Indeed, the dragged-out film ends with a rather sudden thud that left the preview audience I saw the film with muted and seemingly puzzled on its way out of the theater.
We’ve seen Chappie’s themes treated more thoughtfully in better films like Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop (1987) or even Short Circuit (1986)—a family-friendly option from the same era. Like its title character, Chappie feels like an artificial construct in need of more authentic emotion and more heart—some sort of spark to set it apart. As it is, Chappie comes across as robotic in its own way—a clone of better-made films that adds nothing to the genre.
CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers):
- Language/Profanity: Lord’s name taken in vain; numerous uses of the “f” word, including several “mf”s; several uses of foul language; “t-ts up”
- Drinking/Smoking/Drugs: Smoking; drug use
- Sex/Nudity: Brief shot of a naked woman on TV
- Violence/Crime: Bloody news footage; a loaded gun is jammed into a man’s mouth; shootings; Deon is forcibly removed from his car and is kidnapped; Deon is threatened with having his feet cut off; a group of thugs attack Chappie and throw a Molotov cocktail at him; a man buys a pistol; attempts to “toughen up” Chappie; Chappie is deceived and led into assisting in a crime spree; a man is impaled; a man is thrown through an office window
- Religion/Morality: Vincent says he has a spiritual issue with artificial intelligence; Chappie tells a man he's just beaten up that he forgives him; consciousness is transferred to inanimate objects as a way to "live forever"; a key to install software is referred to as the God key
Publication date: March 5, 2015