Just over a week ago I watched Short Circuit (1986) which I really enjoyed, I got a lot out of it, a good film to end the day on. It lifted my spirits which is always a great bonus. I knew that Chappie (2015) was compared to the earlier film, I mentioned I couldn’t comment on the differences until I saw it for myself. Now I have and I feel very much the opposite. I’ve only seen one other of the directors Neill Blomkamp‘s films – Elysium (2013) which left me feeling cold, I couldn’t complete District 9 (2009) for much the same reasons. I had no one I could really connect to on-screen, at the end of Elysium I just didn’t care what happened, just out of respect for the film I finished it as I was so far in.
Turning back to Chappie I watched out of reasons of comparison more than anything. I was originally going to watch it at the time of theatrical release then the moment passed and reviews weren’t that favorable. So having seen Chappie eventually I can say I felt much the same way after Elysium. Starting out in a future that is much like that of Robocop (1987) if you get passed the prototype stage of the police robot, not the cyborg that we saw in Paul Verhoeven‘s future. They even sound like Peter Weller instead voiced by Paul Dobson to give the army their nondescript identity as they act as the robotic arm of the law, the buffers for the human police force which are clearly differentiated as the lower tier of the police force who in South Africa that has been now reducing the crime-rate. Things are improving at the expense of a reliance on technology. The first scene smack of Short Circuit, as they’re lined up to prospective buyers. With a montage of flashy media that you find in a Verhoeven film, helping to create the world of the film. It take a while to leave the comedy predecessor behind. Even the creator Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) of the police robot is working for the company, yet he knows and accepts what he has created. Going further with ideas to create sentience in a robot unlike Newton Crosby (Steve Guttenberg) who is unaware if their potential after an accident. Which we have to wait a bit longer for when scout 22 is brought back for the 2nd time for repair, only to be lined up for dismantling, the perfect prototype robot to test Deon’s new software.
That’s the first real comparison, the beginning of the film before coming into it’s own. The military is the police force. The real twist comes when a gang of criminals led by Ninja (Ninja) whose been given a week to raise 2 million dollars for another gang lead by Hippo (Brandon Auret). All the supporting cast’s played by South African’s making it more authentic. These gang members are all colourful characters that really stand-out on-screen, you can’t help but notice them.Not conforming the Hollywood image of the urban gangster, they still have all the bling though. The last of the criminal underworld that have all but been defeated by the robotic scouts. You could say that Ninja’s gang has found a weakness when they kidnap the creator Deon and his Scout 22, in hopes of training the robot to fight on their behalf.
Of course as we know from previous films, you teach a robot about life, they won’t do as they are told. More so Chappie (Sharlto Copley) as Scout 22 is named, reborn a baby, it takes time for him to find his feet. There’s a moment where I thought we would be going back to Short Circuit when he watches He-Man, which I thought would be the start of a nights TV teaching hi about life, a superhero who could teach him morals (albeit morals that sold action figures). Thankfully that is cut short for a go on the shooting practice. It’s all too much for the infantile Chappie who is runs to his mother figure Yo-Landi Visser (Yo-Landi). They form a strong mother/son bond which is more interesting than that of the creator and creation. As much as he wants the best for him, he is condescending, unaware of his growth away from him, becoming his own person. It’s his time with the criminals that does define him, his experiences with them shape who he is and the course he takes. The killer robot or law-enforcer grows beyond his program.
Away from all the personal growth we have the company that produced Chappie that employs Deon – chaired by Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver) who is well cast but starts to fall into stereotype as tough 2 dimensional woman with no real personality beyond seeing profit. In cahoots with rival machine creator (Hugh Jackman) which looks a lot like the prototype in Robocop wreaked havoc in the boardroom. Jackman was plain irritating with his silly wannabe-mullet who could control his robot with a neural interface helmet.
When the subject of mortality is discussed the film really does enter new territory, Chappie realises his time is brief so will do anything to extend that, using the internet, his circuitry and existing technology to move his consciousness into another robot. Not until things go crazy and Moore starts unleashing hell, by making things a lot worse. This is where it starts to get messy as loose ends start to get tied up in ways you don’t see coming. The crime rate in the city goes up as result, but we focus on Deon and Chappie as they both now fight to stay alive. The result is a bit to be honest, I saw it coming yet there is no fight, it just happens, no discussion and it doesn’t fit, opening up another can of worms which don’t get answered.
In short its a mess of a film that tries to be different from it’s robot film predecessors that are both bold, original and fun. This is neither really, it’s too dark to really engage with. Maybe it’s more about the ideas, which sadly don’t get fully explored and there’s a lot of them. There is a good film in there, it just needs to be reshaped. It’s treading old ground mostly and saying little new which I am starting to do so I’ll end things here before I sound like Chappie.