I am Consciousness: A (Mostly) Spoiler-Free Review of CHAPPiE
I saw CHAPPiE last Saturday with my wife at the Alamo Drafthouse (gotta love dinner and a movie in one place). Overall I liked the film. It's a story about an artificial intelligence coming to think of itself as alive in a kind of a violent, high-tech Pinocchio way. Now that I think about it, the story mirrors the plot of the classic fairy-tale closer than I realized when watching it. One could also frame CHAPPiE in terms of the 1986 film Short Circuit. The theme is similar to the 1986 movie, but CHAPPiE is far weightier in its treatment of the robot-comes-alive theme (unsurprising if you're familiar with Neil Blomkamp at all).
There were a few things in CHAPPiE that bugged me in minor, but still irritating ways.
I hate it when movies subtitle English when they're in English. There is a villain with a heavy, but still intelligible South African accident named "Hippo" (played by Brandon Auret) who is the only subtitled character in the movie. I have no idea why Neil Blomkamp chose to do this. Sure, he's a little hard to understand at times, but Bane (The Dark Knight) was much worse, and it really wasn't necessary as most of Hippo's lines consisted of "I want it!" and "Kill him!" I'm not against reading subtitles, but when I can understand someone without them but still find my eyes reflexively going to the bottom of the screen when it isn't necessary, I get annoyed. I feel like I missed small chunks of the movie because if it.
Second, the aforementioned Hippo isn't menacing at all. He's laughable, which makes it harder for me to understand how it is a whole gang is following this man. Hippo's meant to be the threat motivating Ninja and Yolandi (of Die Antwoord, playing themselves) to do what they do, but I just didn't get the feeling of menace from him which made his presence in the movie a bit of a strange artifact.
The one person in CHAPPiE who was menacing, and brilliantly so, was Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman). The barely hinged Moore is the type of guy who can smile at you, offer you a beer, and then beat the crap out of you in the same breath for little or no reason. His selfishness was really the only antagonism CHAPPiE needed. I think the film could have done away with Hippo, had Ninja and Yolandi as simple criminals, and left Moore as the true villain without losing anything. In fact, I think that combination would have made the film feel more streamlined and less crowded with attempts at comedy.
I was expecting CHAPPiE to be a real tear-jerker, and although I am someone who can shed those watery drops pretty easily while watching a movie, I found my eyes dry throughout. That's not to say CHAPPiE is a bad movie for the lack of them, it's still good despite the issues I had, but I was surprised that I wasn't feeling more emotional. What did work for me was the story of CHAPPiE himself, and his struggle to understand a human world. I routed for him throughout. CHAPPiE is endearing, which made the last few scenes in the movie quite intense. I couldn't tear my eyes away from the screen until the credits started to roll.
Ultimately, CHAPPiE is a story of what might come to pass—and sooner than a lot of us might realize. Robots are already integrated into our police and military forces. From bomb disarming machines, to drones, to gear-carrying, horse-like robots, the use of our mechanical children is on the rise. I have no doubt that we'll probably see robots similar to CHAPPiE walking among us within the next few decades, and that makes films like this one important to watch. Not only might CHAPPiE be an accurate predictor of our future, but like Big Hero 6 and WALL-E, it shows that AI doesn't have to be menacing, or homicidal, which is nice to see considering I think it's only a matter of time before thinking machines live among us.