Robots, Aliens, and Mullets, Oh My!

I recall my jaw dropping the moment the trailer for District 9 (2009) hit about its midway point and revealed that a race of aliens were going to be the main plot point of a film that I, moments prior, thought was going to be about some boring contemporary social issue. A year later, Neill Blomkamp’s District 9, a film about sick and malnourished aliens helplessly stranded on Earth and forced to live in a government camp, was nominated for four Academy Awards. This year, Blomkamp’s new film Chappie covers the familiar, yet relatively new concept of artificial intelligence – something that the film proves it can handle fairly well. Unfortunately, that’s one of the few things it actually does right.

Chappie has two overall vibes that feel jarring when switched from one to the other: the humorous and adorable coming-of-age story for the titular character and robot, and the thrilling, cutthroat subplot that involves South American gangsters played by the members of the band Die Antwoord. The story begins in the very relatable and human city of Johannesburg, where weapons manufacturer Tetravaal builds armored, robotic police drones to aid the city’s police force in taking out a crime rate growing out of control. The inventor of these robots, Deon Wilson (played by Dev Patel), discovers an algorithm for consciousness (after a Red Bull-induced all-nighter) and uploads it into a damaged droid against the orders of his boss Michelle Bradley (played by Sigourney Weaver). Hugh Jackman plays a former military soldier named Vincent Moore, who also works for Tetravaal and whose funding is cut due to the success of Deon’s robotic police force. Moore’s robot is a spitting image of the ED-209 prototype from Robocop (1987), and is deemed too “big, expensive, and ugly” for the Johannesburg police force. Oh, and Hugh Jackman has a mullet.

The Tin Man Has A Heart – The Other Characters Don’t

Chappie certainly does renew District 9’s realism and contemporary relevance. At times, however, the film doesn’t always succeed in convincing the audience that the events within are really happening. It was easier to feel for the only robotic character more than any of the other human characters combined. We may have been rooting for Deon Wilson in the beginning; we wanted him to get his way and to download consciousness into the robot we saw get shot with a rocket launcher not long before, but by act two we’re wondering why the hell he keeps returning to Die Antwoord’s heavily-armed hideout to see a kidnapped Chappie. And by the third act, well, let’s just say Deon gets badly injured in a stale and forced shootout between gangsters and robots. There is a severe lack of female characters in this film. Michelle Bradley, CEO of Tetravaal plays an important role by keeping Vincent Moore from spending any more money on his failed robot, and by denying Deon his request to upload consciousness into a robot made for law enforcement purposes, and forcing him to go rogue. And then, of course, there’s Yolandi, one of the members of Die Antwoord. She ends up becoming Chappie’s surrogate mother, but brings the film down in terms of acting, along with her bandmate Ninja.

If you’ve seen District 9 and enjoyed it, you might want to check this movie out. Just be prepared to scratch your head over some plot holes, and a severely dissatisfying ending. Be prepared for Die Antwoord, and pirate-like antagonists who just shoot uzis into the sky the entire film. Chappie really is the star, ironically making us laugh and cry at his child-like innocence. While he doesn’t quite make it to Lieutenant Commander Data’s level from Star Trek: TNG, Chappie has quite a few scenes in the film that say a lot about the human condition, parenting, and violence. Hugh Jackman has a mullet and he threatens Deon with a gun in an office building, and then plays it off like a joke. Figured I’d mention it in case you’d want to see the movie for that reason alone. Human Resources never gets involved. I don’t think they wanted to be seen in a movie like Chappie.

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