CHAPPiE (2015) Directed by Neill Blomkamp Written by Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell Starring Sharlto Copley, Dev Patel, Hugh Jackman, Yolandi Visser, Watkin Tudor Jones, Jose Pablo Cantillo, and Sigourney Weaver 120 minutes Rated R Distributed by Columbia Pictures United States
Like its predecessor, District 9 (2009), Chappie begins with a documentary style montage that gives us a quick back story. Johannesburg, South Africa. 2016. Several news reports tell us of a new robotic policing program.
These Scouts, armed and controlled by highly-sophisticated artificial intelligence, police the streets and have made crime rates plummet.
Deon Wilson (Dev Patel), lead engineer behind the Scout program, is asked by a reporter: is the ultimate goal of the program to create a fully conscious robot? Deon pauses.
Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman), Deon’s colleague and rival, distrusts the machines’ AI. Vincent heads another robotics program, known as Moose. Controlled by a human via a neural helmet, this giant war machine is reminiscent of the ED-209 from RoboCop (1987). Here lies one of the major tensions in the film: Deon vs. Vincent. AI vs. operation. Conscious autonomy vs. control.
Early on we’re introduced to a group of gangsta thieves and drug dealers (Jones, Visser, and Cantillo). In order to pull off a big heist, they kidnap Deon, planning to have him disable the Scouts. Disabling them is impossible, but Deon offers the gangstas something else — a salvaged, yet damaged, Scout robot running on his experimental consciousness program. Thus, Chappie (Sharlto Copley) is born.
Chappie starts out on an infantile level, but learns exponentially. He starts out walking and repeating simple words, but soon is able to speak in full sentences. He’s very much of the innocent type: sweet, good-natured, with childlike excitability.
Chappie presents us with fundamental questions of our era. How should machines be treated? Are intelligent machines conscious? What happens when they are? Will we see them as being alive, and what does this mean for how we treat them and think of them?
Furthermore, what the film delves into is questions on the nature of consciousness. How do we become who we are? Is consciousness something beyond being “human?” Post-humanist ideas play a big part in the film.
The performances are very good, and the gangstas played by Jones, Visser, and Cantillo especially shine. Copley, who voiced Chappie and did motion-capture for the role, is outstanding. Hopefully soon, motion-capture performances will be given more of the acclaim many of them deserve.
The CGI is excellent in this film. Chappie and the other robots truly are photo-realistic. Hans Zimmer’s score, accompanied by many of Die Antwoord’s songs, is also very good and very moving.
Chappie is one of the best films of 2015.