Does This Unit Have A Soul? A Review of Chappie
Please welcome back Can’t Talk guest writer Andrew Baker, who has some pretty strong feelings about Chappie.
I quite literally stepped out of the movie theater and started writing this review on my phone because I felt that I couldn’t afford to let a second of it pass from my memory before putting down my feelings. Neill Blomkamp has crafted a real masterpiece here and just like his previous two movies District 9 and Elysium there are some very serious social issues brought to the story. Also like his previous movies, these issues are handled intelligently and without talking down to the audience.
Blomkamp goes back home to Johannesburg for the movie and for good reason–it’s still a hot bed for some of the issues presented in the movie. The primary plot focuses partially on Dev Patel (The Newsroom) and his quest to create a true artificial intelligence, and partially on South African rap group Die Antwoord (all of whom acted as well as any Hollywood veterans) attempting to get out from under the control of a crime lord. Caught in the middle of it all was Unit 22 (Chappie), who is the recipient of the experimental AI program.
Now, if the trailers had you expecting to see an action film you are going to be disappointed but don’t worry. To say that this was a well written story would be an understatement. Sure, it can be easy to get an audience to root for the underdog, or want to rage against authority overstepping their boundaries but when was the last time you cared about something that was little more than metal, wires and a bunch of ones and zeros powered by batteries? It takes real skill to humanise something that is as far from human as almost anything we can imagine, to breathe life into something you may never consider to be alive. As such, we end up get a thrilling look at nature versus nurture versus free choice and it was an absolutely thrilling ride that had me laughing, crying, and cheering all in equal measure.
It isn’t easy writing this review spoiler free because all I want to do is discuss the plot points and moral questions, and just dive into all of the things this movie made me feel. While the ending may have been a little out there even for me, it leads to other questions we could and perhaps even should be asking ourselves considering the rate at which technology is advancing. If you don’t leave the theater asking yourselves a whole lot of questions about what you’ve just seen, turn yourself around and watch it again.
The movie has some great pacing and at 120 minutes it needs it. At no point did I ever feel bored or lost. All of the actors, most of whom are relatively unknown, were exemplary and completely convincing, and veterans like Sigourney Weaver and Hugh Jackman were their usual professional selves, Sharlto Copley was perfection as the voice of Chappie. The special effects and action sequences (that are there seemingly just to tick a box on a Sony executives checklist on what you need to make a successful movie) were also very well done.
Perhaps it’s this lack of action, or the discomfort in confronting a different form of humanity and the other social issues that were presented that made Chappie’s opening weekend box office numbers suffer. Make no mistake this is a well written, well acted, and well directed film It is a rare thing: an original story made in Hollywood. I hope that you support it and see it in theaters.
In rating this movie I have to give the story an 8/10. It asks strong social and moral questions intelligently however the ending stretches what is believable based on what has happened in the movie to that point. The acting was very strong all of the leads and supporting cast are solid, and Die Antwoord was quite good in their rookie acting debut. 9/10
Inclusivity is normally where science fiction movies suffer however Chappie is fairly inclusive. Sigourney Weaver is the CEO of a major technology company who isn’t afraid to stand up to pushy male co-workers that think they know better, Dev Patel is a POC who spends the movie trying to nurture an artificial intelligence that he created, and while Yo-Landi Visser of Die Antwoord takes on a motherly role there is no mistaking that there is iron in her veins as well as love in her heart. Also most of the white men in the film are portrayed as villainous not something you see often in a major motion picture. 8/10
Awesomeness, I have to admit some bias here. Stories about artificial intelligence and the nature of what is “alive” or what has a “soul” always rank high on the awesome scale for me. Putting that aside and doing my best to look at it critically this is still a pretty awesome movie. Enough social and moral questions to be more than just an action movie, and enough action to satisfy most movie goers. 9/10.
Averaging out those scores Chappie gets a resounding 8.5/10 and a must see recommendation.
(image source: promotional poster for Chappie distributed by Sony Pictures Entertainment)