Since Ridley Scott’s seminal 1982 cyberpunk masterpiece ‘Blade Runner’ (based on Philip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”), the notion of giving robots sentience through AI has been a popular subject in Hollywood which continues to intrigue viewers. While ‘The Terminator’ and its sequels warned us that it’s a terrible idea which will only lead to our downfall, other movies such as ‘Short Circuit,’ ‘AI: Artificial Intelligence’ and ‘I, Robot’ were more willing to see AI-programmed automata in a gentler light.
Adding to this list is South African director Neill Blomkamp’s edgy and exuberantly energetic near future sci-fi actioner ‘Chappie.’ As the titular droid, ‘Chappie’ is depicted sympathetically and possessed more humanity than some of the flesh-and-blood characters in the movie, including the film’s ambitious and ruthless villain Vincent (Hugh Jackman), a soldier-turned-engineer whose pet project, a remotely human-controlled walker bristling with firepower called “Moose,” is much more suited for the military than the civilian police force he vainly tried to pitch to (square peg in round hole, anyone?). ‘Chappie’ is heavily influenced by ‘RoboCop,’ as the rabbit-eared humanoid ‘Scouts’ (of which ‘Chappie’ is one) are to RoboCop what the ‘Moose’ is to the ED-209.
The childlike Chappie’s rocky journey is always fascinating, and the friendship he forged with Yo-Landi and Ninja (of the SA rap outfit ‘Die Antwoord’) is often funny and touching. In ‘Chappie,’ Blomkamp proved once again that there is simply no better when it comes to creating a gritty and compelling contemporary/near-future dystopia that’s believable, immediate and all-too-real. While ‘Chappie’ lacked the political subtexts from his two previous films (‘District 9’ and ‘Elysium’), the chaotic, lawless urban jungle of Johannesburg he envisioned in his latest effort is no less visceral, sobering and indelible.