Chappie: The Tin Man Gets His Heart


Director Neill Blomkamp is known for producing bombastic, gritty, thought-provoking sci-fi films with layers upon layers of social commentary. To a certain extent, Chappie delivers just that but falls short from its very similar predecessor, District 9.

Chappie is set in the dawn of robotic law enforcement. In order to quell the unrest in Johannesburg, local police have utilized humanoid robotic assistants called scouts. Scouts follow every command of their human partners. They’re indestructible, unyielding tools for justice. But scout creator Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) wants his artificial intelligence to take a step further – he wants to make them independent; to be able to decide for themselves what’s right and what’s wrong. Thus, Chappie was born, the world’s first sentient machine.

Robocop's slightly less handsome cousin.

The story is mostly about Chappie’s growth. He enters the world as a scared, innocent child, absorbing everything like a sponge on steroids. He learns about pieces of the world, as well as concepts of right and wrong, of life and death, of spirit. But while he learns about the world, his existence is threatened by those who fear him, and those who want to exploit him, which further complicates how he understands the world.

The most beautiful thing about this movie is seeing Chappie struggle with these ideas: with how the world works, with morality, and with mortality. For a film about a robot, there’s a lot of humanity to be found here.


But like I said, Neill Blomkamp uses his films to unveil crude, social realities. In District 9, it was primarily social segregation. But in Chappie, it’s a bit harder to grasp. It could be about human inclination, childhood development, consciousness, being “alive”, taking control of destiny, or about finding one’s self. At one point, it may even have been tackling religion, even going so far as calling one character “Maker” who made the questionable decision of creating free will.

There were a lot of big themes that at times got muddled up in its delivery. With a more coherent aim and streamlined script, this movie could have met its very huge potential and been just as innovative as District 9. The inconsistencies were even reflected in Chappie’s mental state. Nearing the end, Chappie’s personality/motivations fluctuated along with the movie’s central purpose.

But if you don’t read into it too much, Chappie still is a pretty good movie.

- Chappie is a great character, both in his concept and his presentation. He’s a character you gravitate towards. 5 seconds after he first appears, and until the end of the movie, you won’t be able to help wanting to take care and cradle him yourself.

- Very poignant. Blomkamp delivers dramatic beats and villain moments that are powerful and visceral.

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Hugh Jackman and Ninja. (Yeah, that's his real name.)

- Strong casting. Neill Blomkamp film mainstay, Sharlto Copley, lends his voice to the titular character. And while I’m not a big fan of his peculiar, South African accent, he does deliver his lines with so much gusto that you don’t even need to understand what he’s saying to feel the range of emotions behind it. Hugh Jackman presence was intimidating as ever as the movie’s envy-driven antagonist and Dev Patel was perfect as the sensitive, fragile, but unwavering moral center. Ninja and Yo-Landi Visser (who amusingly plays characters of the same name in the movie) represented this world’s stark and harsh reality. While, again, it’s hard to comprehend the speech from the thick accents, they still made for some compelling characters.

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Sharlto Copley and Dev Patel.

- The special effects and animation was flawless. Chappie blends perfectly with the environment and the cast as did all the other sci-fi elements. And the film boasts the Blomkamp trademark, visually captivating and realized world.

Chappie may not have been the next District 9, but it sure as hell was still a valiant effort.

Chappie is a loveable character, put in an unlovable world. It’s a film that will constantly make you think while pulling on your emotional strings. It certainly has a lot of great ideas in its subtext and some real potential, and it would have benefited from a more well-defined and gustier script, but when you strip it down to its bare minimum, you’ll still find a compelling story about the Tin man finally getting his heart and figuring out what to do with it.


For more in=depth review, check out my article on The Philippine Online Chronicles! 

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