You know, I honestly don’t understand why this movie has been so critically panned.
The best I can come up with is that either it’s just the usual dismissal of the sci-fi genre or it didn’t live up to expectations, which were admittedly pretty big, considering director Neill Blomkamp’s last movie was District 9. And that movie was excellent.
So, Chappie tells the story of a man, Deon, in South Africa who finds a way to create very human-like artificial intelligence–he’s already behind a project that gave the area a robotic police force, and now he’s found a way to create a very realistic robot that can actually be taught. Enter some criminals, who need lots of money to pay off an even worse criminal and decide to kidnap Deon in an attempt to get him to shut down the police bots, because there’s no way to get away with anything when the cops are robots. Instead, the criminals get Chappie. Meanwhile, Hugh Jackman is trying to create his own big, bad robot controlled by humans, but his budget keeps getting cut and no one really cares, what with Deon’s robotic police force being so effective and all.
Now, I admit that from the first shot of the robotic police, I expected the plot and themes to be very different from what they ultimately were. I expected that to be the focus, but instead, it’s almost psychology, parenting, and what makes us human. The implications of a robotic police force aren’t really addressed much–we know that crime rates significantly plummet and criminals seem to fear the police force, likely because they use excessive, lethal force. We see a few brief scenes later that suggest on a day-to-day basis, law-abiding citizens interact with them calmly and normally.
The fact that this isn’t explored does feel like a huge missed opportunity, and if that’s what people dislike, I get it–but we should be judging this film on what it is, not what we thought it could be. It’s not that it’s disappointing because it didn’t like up to the hype, similar to the way that, say, Prometheus turned out, where you ended up with a lot of great themes and concepts that were poorly executed–it’s that it took a different, unexpected direction. And the end result was still a good, well-written, entertaining movie, and I wouldn’t be surprised if in several years, people look back on it and appreciate it more.
It’s not exactly groundbreaking–it explores similar themes to Blade Runner (or the book form, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, which is a far cooler title) and the character of David in Prometheus, going back to that. But it still tells a good, smart story with some nice nuance. All the characters interact with Chappie differently, so he picks up different things from all of them, the way a child would. I think my favorite is the fact that he learns physical mannerisms from them, and you see him doing certain things or standing in certain ways just because that’s what he learned.
I have heard some say that these themes make it so similar to District 9 that it’s practically the same movie–which is strange considering those same people also praise that film but criticize this one–and while I agree that they’re similar, these definitely aren’t so similar that this just feels like a rehashing. The plots and characters are different, and I do think District 9 was stronger, but again, Chappie is so worth the watch.