Sep 14, 2015

[Movies] Chappie (2015)

After movies like District 9 and Elysium, I think a certain expectation has been set when you sit down for a Neill Blomkamp movie. For example, we know he has a thing for robotics or even just powered armor, although his machines never look too polished or anything of that nature. And there'll be some heavier geo-political setting to factor into things and how all these different factions end up jockeying for position, power, and all that jazz.

Chappie turned out to be quite the different experience in the long run. At first it seemed to follow the same general visual aesthetic and thus it was easy to fall into that same general mindset of expecting a movie experience similar to his prior movies.

But Chappie is something rather different, at least when compared his other commercial releases. It's a story with the same serious weight of socio-political drama, but it also has a lot more heart. It's really just a question of how well the movie was executed - and sadly those expectations do play a bit of a factor.

Synopsis: Chappie s a 2015 science fiction movie written and directed by Neill Blomkamp together with co-screenwriter Terri Tatchell. The story was based on Blomkamp's 2004 short film, Tetra Vaal.

In the near future, we find the South African city of Johannesburg resorting to utilizing state-of-the-art attack robots as police units in an effort to arrest the record-high crime rate. The robots are semi-autonomous with some fairly advanced AI are they do well to take down many drug lords and other lawless elements in short order. Thus things are also going well for Tetravaal, the American company behind the robots. Thus the creator of the scout robots, one Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) is quite well-praised in the company given the success of his robots.

If one star rises, another must fall, and thus Vincent Moore's (Hugh Jackman) remote-controlled MOOSE unit continues to receive less and less funding within Tetravaal as CEO Michelle Brady (Sigourney Weaver) continues to focus all efforts on the humanoid scout units. But Deon wants to take things to a new level with a program that will help the robots become more human, thus bordering on true artificial intelligence. Thus against company directives, he decides to install the experimental program onto a damaged police unit, but things don't go quite as planned.

This movie ends up having a lot more in common with A.I. for rather obvious reasons. The focus is not how mechanized warfare has reached a new level. Instead the story is more about a true artificial intelligence that just happens to be in a police robot and somewhat avoids retaining any of his police bot skills at all once he gains some degree of intelligence.

A large part of the movie focuses on a small gang of thieves who first take Chappie in. The trio of Ninja, Yolandi, and Amerika (Jose Pablo Cantillo) are literally a colorful little group who seemed destined for mischief and mayhem, even though they're not exactly a band of killers. The decision to give them ridiculously colorful and downright fluorescent weapons was a nice touch to make them consistently distinct and quite in-character. You may not necessarily love their quirky personalities, but at least you won't forget who they are in the movie.

Chappie himself ends up being an odd shadow of the trio since they end up investing more time into "raising" Chappie during his early period. And thus all the things that you may love or hate about Chappie and the way he ends up acting in the movie. He can get a little annoying at times, but then later one I suppose it all ends up being for the best, one way or another.

Dev Patel was pretty much Dev Patel in this movie, and he has the whole awkward nerdy guy role down to a science. Hugh Jackman's character was a lot stranger and his efforts in the movie seem t go above and beyond just trying to get funding for his program. He felt more like a caricature whose actions were more dictated by the plot instead of by the character himself. Thus he didn't feel like a personality with any true sense of agency within the context of the movie. Sigourney Weaver's involvement felt more like a sad, somewhat awkward extended cameo.

So the movie has a mix of the good and the bad and the weird thrown in for good measure. If you had never seen any other Blomkamp movies before, then you might better appreciate things in a different way. For the rest of us who have, it feels like a bit of a struggle to ignore what had come before and focus on the present - one made especially challenging given how all his movies generally look like they're from the same universe. Oh well.

Chappie is still an interesting effort to tell a different sort of story, or at least a different spin on the whole artificial intelligence story. It has a number of superfluous elements, but we see this a lot when a short movie gets expanded into a feature-length film instead. So the movie gets 3 silly things that Chappie learns to do out of a possible 5.


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