Critics Pan ‘Chappie,’ But Film Remains A Win For Original SciFi

Neill Blomkamp has returned to his futuristic depiction of Johannesburg, South Africa, for his third film, Chappie. Critics have roundly panned the film—see here for a plot synopsis—but fans seem much more willing to see what Blomkamp is trying to do. Does 2015 have another Jupiter Ascending on its hands?

Many mainstream critics have been singularly unimpressed with Chappie. The Washington Post questioned if Blomkamp could ever equal the success of his first film, District 9.

“Will [Blomkamp’s turn in the Aliens franchise] be a return to form or is the director going to pull a Shyamalan and make one buzzy movie followed by inconsequential or downright awful ones?”

The Guardian and several other periodicals compared Chappie to both Short Circuit and Robocop, two well loved original sci-fi films of the last century. The ones that didn’t draw those rather obvious comparisons talked about how Avengers: Age of Ultron will also look at the subject of A.I. later this year.

Here’s the problem with these comparisons. When Short Circuit and Robocop were made, sci-fi was a niche thing. For those movies to be popular, they were deliberately made accessible, so that anyone would enjoy them.

I’d give #Chappie a 7/10. By the books in writing maybe, but you can’t deny its momenys of emotional and sociological brilliance.

— Soham Gadre (@SoHamandCheese) March 9, 2015

@ItsBrookeRyan #Chappie was excellent! But remember: both #Cinderella and #Eva open this Friday. #doublefeature

— Anabell Martin (@AOS_author) March 9, 2015

As geek culture has become more mainstream, the American audience has gotten more accustomed to comic book culture writ large, accepting the megalomaniacal villains of Iron Man 3 and Captain America. If no one’s chewing scenery, it’s not a comic book movie.

But science fiction isn’t supposed to be easy. Science fiction reflects back at us not who we dream of being, but who we could be. Sometimes those visions are utopian and hopeful, but more often, they’re reflections of the worst sides of humanity, cautionary tales, fairy tales for our modern world when science has replaced magic as our explanation of the universe. If you watched District 9 and didn’t see the commentary on racism, you missed the point.

Our generation has nearly pushed original science fiction out of the movie theaters. Franchises like Divergent,Hunger Games, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe are all fantastic, but they come to the movies with pre-built audiences, having done the hard work on the page before they are on the big screen.

If you go watch Chappie—or Jupiter Ascending—in the same frame of mind you have when you go to see Age of Ultron, you might be seriously disappointed. But if you go to see the story that Blomkamp wants to share, fans suggest you might enjoy the experience.

Are you planning on seeing Chappie?