Due to writing and other things, it has taken me some time to get around to finally watching some of the big sci-fi movies from last year. Here we are with the lastest film from Neill Blomkamp, who in the past has previously given us District9 and Elysium. He is seen by some people as arguably the news hope in science fiction cinema, and now he is even linked up to a new film in the popular ALIENS series.
When his last film Elysium recieved mixed reviews concerning the plot and writing, here he has moved to yet another classic SF idea-robots becoming human. This film is great fun, but it is unashamedly similar to the Short Circuit movies and Robocop films of the 1980’s.
He knows that this is not a groundbreakingly orginal concept, but that is alright because here he takes the robots again to his own home country and familiar land of of his first film, Johannesburg. While very similar to Short Circuit in tone, this time the robot story is set only a very short time from right now, our present time, and so pulls in a few modern cultural elements that we see and hear today.
So does this film do more than simply rehash 80’s robot movies?
Well, narratively speaking, it really is as if Johnny5 from Short Circuit is the lead police robot in one of the Robocop films. That is how it goes really. But don’t worry, as this time, the visually are really captivating, with motion-capture animation of Blomkamp regular actor Sharlto Copley. So unlike those 80’s sci-fi movies with their large cumbersome animatronic physical effects, the character of Chappie moves much more smoothly and fluidly on screen. He is a joy to watch.
So while the main story may be mostly highly predictable, the film does looks so fantastic visually, with great lighting and cinematography, fantastic locations and sets. We also have a number of great and well known movie icons and actors including Sigourney Weaver, Hugh Jackman, Dev Patel. It is great to see Jackman play against type, as a nasty ex-military bully, desperate and cheating through the film. Dev Patel is the usual lovable character we can expect from him, and Weaver is becoming a mainstay in Blomkamp films.
So as the movie goes along, we watch and think ‘Okay, this actually is Robocop with Johnny5 in the lead’, it is entertaining as he is given consciousness and goes from being a very naive child-like robot, to then being used and manipulated into a street style ‘gangster’ robot, while his maker Patel, urges him to think for himself, follow his creative desires and interests over crime and violence. It is an emotional and moving film, especially for example when Chappie is left in the urban streets and attacked by youths.
This is entertaining but then as the expected story moves along, the plot changes and goes a bit further than Short Circuit simply did. Chappie sees that he has only days left to ‘live’ but than hopes to find a way to stay alive. This element reminded me of the Replicants from Blade Runner but in this case, you feel more for this artificial being.
The film does end with a wide and spectacular set piece, guns blasting and robots fighting. It may have been derivative and very familiar but with the philosophical changes and the unique visual effects it is a great modern sci-fi movie. Interestingly, I watched the ‘alternate’ ending after seeing the cinema cut and it would have offered a much more possibly grim and dystopian version.
Should we fear artificial intelligence? Should we fear the rise of robots? They may come to work with us, live with us in our lifetime, but they may be friends have rights as well.
James E Parsons has his second SF book Minerva Century published soon in 2016.