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Movie Review: Chappie

By Jason Ooi

Like its titular character, Chappie is a bit of a black sheep when it comes to current public perception.

The film follows the creation and development of the world’s first sentient AI, placed in the body of a destroyed police scout, as it falls into the wrong crowd and is raised to be a gangster in the rubble of urban Johannesburg. This brings up a conflict that spans politics, morality, and poverty’s effect on upbringing that offers examination of human nature.

The film succeeds heavily on a thematic level, something that director Neill Blomkamp seems to have no trouble doing, sometimes even overdoing it (See: Elysium). Chappie is quite literally a child; he is impressionable, heavily influenced and manipulated, and must learn and adapt from his surroundings. His life is an unprecedented one that offers a glaring insight into humanity and how we can hurt and be hurt so easily. Through “his” existence, we also witness the effects of morality, as well as mortality, as we see a lovable little outlier molded by his surroundings into something completely different than what could have been had he been raised in a different environment. It also shows the good that lies hidden with the bad in its two anti-heroes, played incorrigibly by music group Die Antwoord, who offer both bad influence, but nurturing pseudo-parents for the young robot.

As far as looks go, Chappie looks amazing. Sharlto Copley bring the character to life with a realism that makes the film feel authentic. It’s not hard to really care for the film’s characters, even if they’re a bit irritating or naive at times. Chappie himself is designed well enough to feel natural- things like hand gestures and struts are formulated, perfected, and carried on throughout the rest of the film with continuity. He demands sympathy. The adherence to the science fiction is admirable and makes the film fascinating on a separate level, and the portrayal of city life is so feasible that it makes the future seem less distant. The visual style is practically perfect. For all that we know, the events that take place in Chappie could become a possibility within the next few years, and that is completely wonderful.

Like a child, Chappie also has so much potential to be better. The film could have worked on having a better script, and the cinematography could have featured much less slow motion close ups. Blomkamp could have made the villain less of a two dimensional character and Ninja and Yolandi from Die Antwoord could have been replaced by actors who could actually act or talk comprehensibly. I understand that they were the influence for the film, but they didn’t necessarily have to be the stars. At one point, Chappie felt more like a parody of a music video than it did an actual film. Thankfully, none of these flaws are enough to take away from the strong substance that lies at the core of the film.

Chappie is definitely a flawed movie, but it is also one in which the flaws can be overlooked for an emotional and sentimental core that really observes the intrinsic nature of our species. By giving us a character that is like us emotionally but not aesthetically, Blomkamp makes us host to a wide new array of unprecedented emotion and thought.