Critics have not been kind to Chappie. Sure, Neil Blomkamp’s latest film has plot holes and an ending that stands in defiance of the movie’s otherwise emotionally and philosophically engaging themes, but it’s by no means a terrible movie. I left it slightly disappointed in its final twenty minutes, but any disappointment I felt was far overshadowed by sheer shock at just how critically eviscerated the movie was.
Metacritic, a site that aggregates films’ critical reception on a 100-point scale, lists the quantified critical reaction to Chappie as precisely equal to that of Jupiter Ascending.
So before I really say anything about Chappie I just wanted to let you know that that’s insane.
In Chappie, Blomkamp’s signature South African Sci-Fi ghetto of the not too distant future becomes the setting of its broadest subject matter yet. Where District 9 allegorically tackled Apartheid and Elysium immigration and income disparity, Chappie sees Blomkamp’s neo-slums grappling with existence itself. An ambitious undertaking set squarely on the shoulders of a Bugs Bunny robot.
I can feel you wanting to draw a line connecting the Mecha-Bugs of Chappie to the leather-jacket clad Dino-men of Jupiter Ascending. Freaking cut it out.
Chappie isn’t without detailed exposition, delivered by Anderson Cooper no less, but the compelling meat of the film concerns an artificial intelligence born into a faulty robot body with limited battery life and raised in a rundown shantytown factory by South African rap group Die Artwoord. Literally, by the way. Literally Die Antwoord. Die Antwoord as Die Antwoord.
It’s a ridiculous backdrop to be sure, but Blomkamp uses it to examine incredibly poignant facets of the human experience. Parenthood and its inherent responsibility in introducing the knowledge of death into the mind of a child. Childhood and its inevitable arrival upon that knowledge of death. Humanity’s quest to know and understand its maker, and the inexplicable lengths it is willing to go to in the name of said maker.
Sharlto Copley’s motion capture performance as the titular Chappie masterfully navigates these massive concepts. His performance is consistently believable not only as a robot but as a child.
Opposite Copley, Hugh Jackman’s heroic mullet and chicken dinosaur robot monster provide the perfect antagonism to Copley’s robot rabbit child and the two are put on an inevitable collision course from the word “go” that offers viewers no shortage of big dumb action.
But Chappie isn’t a big dumb movie. It’s intelligent and poignant and manages to observe the human experience with the same sense of wonder afforded its giant robots.
Though the last twenty minutes of Chappie essentially spit in the face of the film’s observations on the brevity and preciousness of existence those observations are so brilliantly delivered over the majority of the film that I forgave the questionable ending.
Chappie has its share of valleys but its peaks are so fascinating, insightful and well executed that they dwarf the film’s trips and stumbles. Chappie is not perfect, but for the love of all that is holy it is absolutely not Jupiter Ascending.