Speculative Fiction Saturday: CHAPPiE

ChappieLately, I’ve been told by people at home that I get a little mean-spirited when I get critical. So when I see a film that I don’t really like, I can really get terrible about my criticisms about it. In the case of CHAPPiE, I’m going to say that I am going to give it thumbs down, but I am going to swear that I am going to say good things about what I believe this film was trying to do.

I’ve going to have to start by talking about director Neill Blomkamp. This man did one of the best speculative films of all time with District 9, and I haven’t got around to writing about that one yet (I probably should). He then did the film Elysium, which I didn’t give a good review to. You can read that review here, and I mentioned that I thought the film had some good ideas but poor implementation.

CHAPPiE (note the small i in title, like Apple, but not at the beginning) starts with two people talking about something, and then cuts to events in the story that occurred 18 months ago. At first I thought that Neil Blomkamp was imitating the style of District 9 with documentary format, but unfortunately, it comes off as a last-minute edit.

The film then uses a lot of news footage to show that this film takes place in the future, but not very far in the future. In fact, Anderson Cooper shows up in this footage, looking not very aged. The world is set up showing that the city of Johannesburg is implementing a program with robot cops. This robotic police force has its own artificial intelligence, and it would appear that only this South African city has them. I can understand why it was chosen to take place in the near future, as films that take place further in the future have to really build a more fantastic futuristic world.

I think Blomkamp was going to a believably factor, like it wouldn’t take long for this story to actually happen in reality. The robots looked real enough, that is for sure. The issue is that I can’t imagine a society who develops intelligent robots only using it as a police force. You think there would be a lot fast-food workers or butlers, but the film never shows what feels like an obvious logical result of intelligent robots dumped in a near future culture.

The actually story beings on a routine bust, a robot is put out of commission with a rocket launcher. One of the creators of the robots, Deon, decides to try out a program that will make robots more sentient. So when Deon finds this robot’s injured form, he installs the program in him.

Now, the film takes a lot of unexpected plot twists, and some of them are not well-managed. Part of it is the amount of characters running around in the film. That routine bust that I mentioned before had two criminals who are played by characters of a rock ban named Die Antwoord. These crooks had their plans busted, and they realize that the robot-cops have an off-switch somewhere.

These crooks then kidnap Deon, but instead of giving the criminals the off switch, he turns on a robot with lifelike qualities. These criminals then decide that they don’t want the off switch, but rather realize that the robot can be trained to commit and not stop crimes.

This is essentially the premise, and it is a mix of a lot of other films about robots. After all, it starts with robots being cops, which was done in Robocop. Then the Robot gets life like qualities, which was done in Short Circuit. Then the robot is put in a place where he must use guns, but refuses, which feels straight out of The Iron Giant. There are also elements of the movie I, Robot with an automaton learning to be human in a world where robots are the new servants.

I’m not about to criticize CHAPPiE for using ideas from other films. The issue is can this film, take it in a new direction, and I will say that it does. It is an unpredictable direction, but I’m not certain that it is a decent direction. This film has the scenes where the robot is learning about the human race with the usual fish-out-of-water scenes. The difference is that he is being raised by criminals, and I’ve never really seen that before.

This film goes out of its way to make certain that this story, which is usually targeted at a juvenile audience, is as adult as possible. Chappie the robot learns to talk and he swears as much as a gangster. I’ve decided not to spoil the ending, but I will have to say that the tagline that you see on the poster: “Humanity’s Last Hope Isn’t Human” is only somewhat valid. This tagline makes it sound like Chappie saves the world, but this just isn’t the case.

I will spoil it and say the ending involves a battle between Chappie and a big robot. I figure that is pretty obvious as the beginning of this film shows a giant robot, and it is essentially a tease of what is to come. This robot was made by Hugh Jackman’s character, who seems like he is not worth the price they paid for him. The issue isn’t that Hugh isn’t acting well, but his character is like the one Vincent D’Onofrio played in Jurassic World. That is, he wants to use a new weapon, and he’s hoping some seriously bad situations will give him the chance to use this new technology of warfare. I felt that any actor could have done this job, and there is a scene where he threatens Deon with a gun that feels too forced.

This is the issue with certain ideas. They have to be tried out, and sometimes, in the end, they just don’t work. One of the things that I fear might happen to Neil Blomkamp is that he will be remembered like people are talking about M. Night Shyamalan. That is, everyone remembers how great the first film is (The Sixth Sense), and then the director can only produce material of a lesser quality after that. I’ve heard that Blomkamp is preparing a film for the Alien franchise, which takes place after Aliens, possibly rebooting the series so Alien 3 never happened. Even though a film like that will make a lot of money, it is something that could really fail.

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