This is a terrific small film about artificial intelligence wrapped within a much bigger, less involving action blockbuster. When he's grappling with issues of existence and consciousness, filmmaker Neill Blomkamp has a lot of fascinating things to say. But he also seems unable to resist tipping everything into contrived chaos, adding an unconvincing villain and lots of violent gun battles. It's an awkward mix that might please action movie fans more than those who like to engage their brains.
It's set after 2016, when the Johannesburg police deployed a team of Scout robots to bring order to the gang-ruled streets. This has been a bonanza for the tech company Tetravaal, run by hard-nosed CEO Michelle (Sigourney Weaver), who chose the Scout model, designed by the nerdy Deon (Dev Patel), over a more military-style behemoth called Moose, designed by trigger-happy Vincent (Hugh Jackman). Meanwhile, a low-life trio of offbeat, high-energy thugs (Ninja, Yo-Landi Visser and Jose Pablo Cantillo) decide to crack into the Scout's control system, so they kidnap Deon, inadvertently getting their hands on his newest prototype, the first truly sentient robot. When he's switched on, Chappie (Copley) has a sensitive soul and learns rather too quickly from his captors.
With films like District 9 and Elysium, Blomkamp showed an ability to seamlessly integrate technology with a rough and real story, and the effects work here is remarkable mainly because we never see how they're done. The robots look utterly natural mixing with humans, and Copley's performance is so astonishing that Chappie quickly becomes a hugely sympathetic character, uncannily taking on the traits of the people around him. It also helps that the film's script continually puts Chappie into situations that force us to feel his emotions and, most importantly, his powerful sense of self-preservation. Yes, he wants to live!
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Mankind has the potential to build wondrous things, yet it also truly fears what it doesn't understand. After working for the best part of a year on creating a thinking, feeling artificial intelligence, Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) is close to realising that vision. Said vision is CHAPPiE (Sharlto Copley), and when he is finally activated, he serves as a true breakthrough for mankind. CHAPPiE is a capable of thinking and learning, yet he also has the potential for creating destruction. It is this potential that worries Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman), who sets out with the intent to destroy CHAPPiE before he can cause any damage.
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It's the year 2154 and Max Da Costa is living in the densely populated, crime and war ravaged wasteland that is the planet Earth. Meanwhile, the rich and the privileged live on an orbital settlement in space called Elysium which boasts perfect landscapes, no poverty and medical advancements that can eliminate illnesses such as cancer in half a second. Despite Earth being a disease-stricken planet with little resources to go around, Secretary Rhodes is vehemently strict with her immigration laws disallowing anyone of a lower class to be allowed into their utopia even in the case of the most serious of illnesses. An ailing Max is determined to survive, however, even if it means embarking on a highly dangerous mission to break into the highly guarded space habitat and retrieve medical resources that could save him and the rest of the suffering population.