In the near future Johannesburg is the first city ever to have a fully robotised police force patrolling the streets. It turns out to be an effective move as crime rates have shot down in South Africa's largest city. Meanwhile, an employee of the company that provides the robotic police force, Deon Wilson (Dev Petal), builds a robot that has the ability to mimic human intelligence and have its own emotions and opinions (for example he could be an art or film critic). Deon is however hijacked by a group of thugs (played by the members of the rap group Die Antwoord) and Chappie (Sharlto Copley) falls into their possession. The thugs wish to use Chappie to commit a number of crimes to help them pay back the money they owe to a drug lord. The thugs and Chappie's maker battle for his soul and protect him from those intent on destroying him.
Chappie's plot synopsis on various websites such as Rotten Tomatoes seems to give one the idea that Chappie is about a robotic police state and the citizens of Johannesburg fighting against this authoritarian police force. It, however, couldn't be further from the truth as Chappie is closer to being Short Circuit than it is RoboCop. Certainly, RoboCop is a massive influence (the ED-209 looks almost identical to Vincent Moore's, played by Hugh Jackman, prototype police robot), but the misleading plot synopsis perhaps did Chappie a disservice as people would go in expecting something more along the lines of RoboCop than Short Circuit. However, for me, Chappie overcomes the issues of a misleading plot synopsis and shows that the critics were mistaken in regards to their negative reviews of Chappie.
After the disaster of Elysium (the director, Neill Blomkamp, admitted the film was a mistake), Blomkamp needed a return to form especially since his debut picture, District 9, is regarded in very high esteem. He may have found his form with Chappie and this finding of form is undoubtedly owed to Chappie himself. Sharlto Copley's motion capture performance is exceptional, he gives his child like robot very real human mannerisms and gives the audience a strong emotional connection to Chappie. Chappie gives the film an emotional backbone that papers off the film's rough edges as his childlike innocence and naivety makes him an emotionally investible figure.
What is also greatly moving is Chappie's recognition of his own mortality (like Rutger Hauer's Roy Batty from Blade Runner) and his relationships with the human characters, particularly with his adoptive mother (Yolandi Visser) and his maker. The parental figures, played by members of the rap group Die Antwoord (who do a surprisingly good job), brings up themes of nature vs. nurture, discussing how much a child's upbringing can affect who they are as a person in the future.
As I said the film has some rather rough edges which are papered over by the emotional connection to Chappie, namely the script itself could do with some tightening up in regards to aspects of the central story (for a weapons factory the place is staggeringly poorly guarded) and Hugh Jackman's villian is so devoid of a rational thought that he really doesn't work as a threatening and believable villian. The film's tonal shifts from silly, almost childlike (with swearing), humour to the quite extreme violence is quite jarring and the overuse of slow motion sequences does get immensely irritating.
For me Chappie is the Transcendence of 2015, critics have dismissed it entirely, but I personally liked it and the reason for that is the fact that Chappie is a hugely investible figure.