Chappie once again ticks off the Blomkamp checklist. Dysfunctional crime ridden society, check. Police state, check. Protagonists that you are not sure whether they will be the heroes or villains, check. Science fiction element set to challenge all that, check.
In this case the core science fiction concept being explored is Artificial Intelligence: the eponymous Chappie. A little police robot that is made fully conscious by its creator and is then cast out among the criminal element of Johannesburg to learn about the realities of life.
Returning to South Africa and with District 9 co-writer Terri Tatchell, Chappie was made for less than half the budget of Elysium, which allowed them to make a movie that is far less Hollywood. Though they were able to attract stars such as Hugh Jackman and Sigourney Weaver in pivotal roles.
Artificial Intelligence is a favourite topic of movies at the moment, and Chappie follows much the same theme explored in other movies, where the new mind is exploring the world and trying to make sense of it. For myself, this part is both boring and technologically unrealistic, especially as it is such a common element of these stories. However in the end this doesn't matter that much and it is more about the relationships Chappie develops and some key learning moments in his life.
What makes the story different is the context for the story. What choices would a robot make if it grew up on the violent streets of South Africa while facing its own mortality. While this is a movie of robot fights, gore and violence, it is ultimately a heartwarming and uplifting story of hope. More so than any other movies of this genre.
Some critics have been panning this movie, and for a few understandable reasons. It is hard to easily know who the good guys and bad guys are, the middle of the movie is quite slow and the end of the movie has more explosions than are needed to advance the plot. In the end, the world is not saved, instead it is a very personal change.
Despite this, the movie is a multi-layered complex story that says something meaningful about both society, robots and our future. It is a must see for fans of Blomkamp.
Be aware that the marketing for this movie will leave you very disappointed. Some of the trailers imply that this is a cute movie and there are movie posters proclaiming that Chappie is "Humanity's Last Hope" or that a "Revolution is About to Begin". Instead we have an intensely personal story with an emotional and open ended ending.