I'm glad my parents aren't hyper-criminals
who are also Die Antwoord.
"I am discovery. I am wonder. I am Chappie."

I feel like this tagline is a bit misleading in terms of the movie's tone, but then again I've never especially gotten the impression that tagline writers have any idea what movies are about. Welcome back to THE Tagline, where robots get set on fire just to watch them burn. Over the weekend I got out to the movies, because there was something that I actually wanted to see, and that was Chappie, the latest from South African-Canadian pain artist Neill Blomkamp, a man romantically involved with cinematic misery, and also science fiction I suppose. His last fictional foray was the aggressively unpleasant and almost completely unnecessary Elysium, a film where Matt Damon portrays a low-life who enlists the help of bigger low-lifes, to bring down the biggest, meanest, low-lifes of all, who live on a magical paradise in outer space. What you may be detecting is I didn't think much of Elysium. While still kind of a bummer, I found District 9, his first major theatrical release, to be substantially less shitty, and so with these two experiences from the director behind me, I figured that I had a 50/50 shot of either liking or hating Chappie, a movie about a police robot that gains sentience, in the caldera of violence and shittiness that is Johannesburg. How did I end up liking it? Well things went about 50/50. Let's start off with the basics.

This is not a guy you reason with.
While it is his third major studio film, Chappie's concept was derived from Blomkamp's first short film, about humanoid police robots being deployed to enforce law and order in Johannesburg, which as you may have noticed in District 9, kind of makes urban crime in America look like a joke, and bears a striking example to some shit out of Borderlands. You get to see more of that in this movie, with crazy guys without shirts shouting in Afrikaans while they fire golden AK47s and neon yellow AR15s. It's the sort of thing where it's clearly supposed to be the sort of messed up future, but at the same time it just looks like a slightly worse present. Chappie starts following the widespread success of  the humanoid scout patrolbots, having been innovated by Tetravaal employee Deon Wilson (Dev Patel, perhaps best known for his performance in Slumdog Millionaire). This has earned the company success, but also earned the ire of weapons developer/Australian maniac Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman) whose wildly excessive Moose prototype has been shelved in favor of the scouts, which don't fire cluster bombs, presumably making them more useful as law-enforcement tools. Moore's machine looks more like those monsters from Robocop. Behind the scenes, Deon is working at home to try and create a true artificial intelligence, and is on the cusp of doing so. That's great an all, until Die Antwoord gets involved.

This is how you have to dress Hugh Jackman to turn the
audience against him.
No seriously that's what happened. So let's go to plot B, which becomes inextricably tangled with plot A. Ninja's gang, which includes Yolandi of course (for those who don't know, Die Antwoord is a... like South African Rap/Rave group basically) is in trouble with the previously mentioned shirtless golden AK wielding maniac, a guy named Hippo. They need to get him 20 million rand by the end of the week, after a drug delivery goes south or he's going to kill them (though personally I think he's going to kill them regardless). They decide the best way to get the money is to knock over an armored car, but they know the police robots will just appear and massacre them. To get around this, they set out to try and find a way to deactivate the robots. They figure kidnapping the guy who designed them is a good start. Just as they do this, Deon is taking home a chassis slated for destruction, to use secretly as the test bed for his AI program. He is forced to activate it under less than ideal circumstances clearly.

Cool is... different in South Afrika I guess.
Chappie is what Yolandi dubs the bot once it activates, born as a super-smart baby and voiced by you guessed it, Sharlto Copley (because how could he not be in a movie directed by Neill Blomkamp). Chappie is a blank slate that acquires information like a sponge, but Ninja isn't amused by any of this baby-time bullshit, and immediately sets about teaching Chappie about guns and crime and shit, by dumping him among some hoodlums, who do what is only natural and savagely beat the robot, and set him on fire. This segment begins some of the most upsetting sequences in the film, because... I mean gosh they're just really not nice to this robot. I get the narrative reason why bad things have to happen to Chappie... but at the same time I feel like those sequences could have been shorter and still gotten the point across. This general enthusiasm for brutality was the segment of the film that reminded me most of Elysium, which is like Chappie minus anything good that could happen, or any good people. Awful criminals with nearly no sense of morality though they may be, Ninja, Yolandi, and their pal Amerika are all better than the least villainous characters in Elysium, showing at least sparks of humanity amidst their general awfulness.

I get that it's probably hot but like... put a shirt on.
I'd read reviews that this film was pointless and brutal, and I have to disagree. I think it had a pretty decent point actually, but yeah it was still pretty brutal. That said, of the three Blomkamp movies it has the least depressing narrative arc, and it has interesting things to say about human potential, character evolution, and also cool robots. Also it has a lot of guys getting shot or occasionally torn apart and blown up, so if high concept science fiction isn't your thing don't worry, there's also buckets of violence, because savagery is the name of the game in Jo'burg. The effects, particularly the scouts and Chappie himself, are incredibly cool, and you really have every sense that Chappie is real and not just some souped up special effect. I was never once distracted from the film by the fact that the primary protagonist was a robot. No doubt as the director intended, he was maybe the most human character in the film.

I was scared like a Chappie set on fire, but in the end this movie proved itself, and I can recommend you go see it, though you've been warned about how rough it can get. Also be ready to be exposed to Die Antwoord directly, which can be extremely traumatic. That's my update for the week. Join me again next week, and thanks for hanging with me.

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