From the trailer it would seem Chappie was an interesting mashup between 80’s flick Short Circuit and District 9. It was at that. But it was something else as well.
The story goes that designer of some robotic police force has created intelligence. Not just intelligence, but, in essence, sentience. To test this, he kidnaps a robot that was about to be destroyed. Before the designer is able to implement the intelligence into this defunct robot, he is kidnapped by gangsters and forced to implement the intelligence into the robot for their benefit.
Part of the deal is that the robot stays with the gangsters and the designer gets to teach the robot to build up its skills. This is the basic setup, but things soon spiral out of control, and that’s the plot bits I won’t tell you about. Needless to say, things go from bad to worse.
Chappie is the innocent in this film. He’s probably the only innocent, as everyone around him manipulates him or attacks him. It’s actually quite distressing to watch – you’re forced into a position where you can believe that this is a brand new life form, that it has emotions like fear, enthusiasm and humour, which is then attacked. It’s incredibly unsettling to see a robot shivering from fear of violence against it.
The people around him
Throughout Chappie’s time, he gets pulled and pushed into so many different ways – by the gangsters, by the designer and by the real villain. The designer wants to push Chappie into a culture he deems fit, while the gangsters want to make him one of the gang. It certainly creates a lot of conflict, and the manipulation of his innocence is also heartbreaking.
I had been looking forward to seeing Chappie, having enjoyed watching both District 9 and Elysium, but Chappie is now one cinema experience I don’t wish to repeat. From ludicrously unrealistic depictions of corporate security in both terms of physical and electronic; to gangs that are worse than the drivel of representation cooked up in 1980s and 1990s Hollywood; to a society that made even less sense than Elysium’s: there was so much I don’t like about this film.
If the realism issue wasn’t bad enough, I couldn’t stop cringing over most lines of dialogue, which sounded clumsy and ill-thought out, making even the brainiest characters in the film sound like simpletons. And this inability for human characters to purvey anything of worth meant that the only character who you could identify with was Chappie, because he made sense, which then made the film an utter brutal watch, with Chappie’s horrific treatment, that Michael Bay would be proud of.
You don’t want to make a film that Michael Bay would be proud of. You don’t.
But is it good?
I have conflicted emotions about this film. It’s good on a technical level, both in production values and on a story level – at least in terms of things like pacing. But it’s also incredibly distressing. You build empathy with Chappie even from the outset and it’s hard to watch when he is victimised over and over again. I’m pretty sure that’s part of the point of the film – separating the ‘other’, but it’s still not pleasant.
I would probably say, this is potentially mismarketed. You can see see Neill Blomkamp all over the film, but the trailer didn’t capture the sheer despair of Chappie’s world, nor did it quite capture just how innocent Chappie is.
Abort, Fail or Retry?
This film is good. Don’t get me wrong. It’s just a difficult watch. A very difficult watch. And the ending, whilst sweet, wasn’t something that sat comfortably with me. I’d have to say I’m glad I watched it, but it’ll be a while before I can watch it again.
Chappie is out now, still in some cinemas. Our reviewers bought their own tickets.