by Sam Robinson
Rated MA15+. Starring Dev Patel, Hugh Jackman. Directed by Neill Blomkamp.
I’ve just seen what life will be like in 2016. There’s crime, robots with human ethics and Hugh Jackman with a mullet.
This is the gritty (and surprisingly 80s) world presented to us in Chappie, the latest film from Neill Blomkamp, the director who brought us District 9 and Elysium. Similar to his previous features, Chappie is a violent affair. The film is set in crime-riddled Johannesburg, where the gang situation has grown so intense that robot police soldiers (with cute rabbit ears, of course) keep society at peace. Deon (Patel) is the dweeby guy who has created the force, and his co-worker Vincent (Jackman, with mullet) is jealous, having created an unsuccessful robot prototype of his own, named MOOSE.
But Deon’s genius goes beyond his original robot design. He has created a programme that can make his robots think and behave just like humans. His boss won’t let him install it, so he nabs a destroyed robot with the plan to use it as a prototype. As he drives it away, his van is hijacked by goons Ninja and Yolandi (Ninja and Yolandi from hip-hop act Die Antwoord), who want to steal the robot and Deon’s skills to make the robot assist their crime spree across the city.
I don’t want to get bogged down in the story, but of course the programme is uploaded and Chappie is born. He becomes a robot that acts, thinks, and learns like a human. Many films have gone down the artificial intelligence path before, and there’s certainly borrowed elements throughout Chappie (the MOOSE robot and the bloody violence are straight from 1987’s RoboCop), but it’s Chappie’s ‘humanity’ that makes this film different.
From the first moments after being switched on, Chappie is a child. He cowers in fear in front of gun-wielding drug dealers, he needs reassurance. It’s an amazing contrast. And as the film progresses, Chappie learns from those around him. He is emotionally malleable. And it’s ridiculously engaging to watch. As Ninja and Yolandi in their brutality influence this innocent robot child to become a bling-wearing gangster, it’s compelling. There are a number of scenes that will move you deeply.
Watching the push and pull between creator Deon’s hopes for his robot child and the influence of Ninja and Yolandi is what keeps this film moving. It’s like those classic cartoons where an angel and a devil sit on shoulders. What will Chappie do? Will he follow the will of his maker? Or give in to the demands of those who want to use him? Chappie is born with an ethic where he knows causing harm to others, and performing crime, is wrong. But there’s a war raging in his conscience.
Chappie is undoubtedly playing up the relationship that we have with our maker, God. We were created by God to live under his rule, but instead we rebelled against him and chose to live our own way (Genesis 3). There’s a scene in Chappie that paints this so well, where Deon discovers Chappie dressed as a gangster, and Chappie gives him lip. Deon is horrified that his own creation would act like this toward him.
‘I’m your maker!…. I brought you into this world!… Promise me you won’t do these things.’
But this is how we all treat our maker. None of us follow God properly, and the result is that we live in a broken world. Everybody lives for themselves. Each and every day we face temptations that want to pull us away from our maker, but really our biggest problem is our hearts that are corrupted from the inside (Romans 7:22-24). Only God can forgive us for our rebellion against him, and by his grace he does this in Jesus.
Chappie isn’t a perfect movie, but it goes a lot deeper than you might expect. Sure, there are some action sequences that could be dropped, and an ending that leaves you a little disappointed, but Blomkamp manages to rattle you and warm your heart all at the same time. Be warned that there is a fair bit of gory violence. I’m giving Chappie three-and-a-half stars.
Chappie will release in Australian cinemas this Thursday, 12th March. It is already screening in cinemas elsewhere.