Friday, May 15, 2015

'Chappie' Suffers by Being Released in the Same Year as 'Ex Machina'

I’ve just watched Ex Machina and Chappie back-to-back, and I think it’s appropriate to write about them in a single post, since, as the title implies, one movie suffers because of the existence of the other (or by watching them back-to-back). 

Ex Machina tells the story of Caleb, a programmer working for Bluebook (the Google in this story’s universe), who wins a company lottery to spend a week with Bluebook’s visionary CEO and founder, Nathan, in his uber-modern, secluded residence.  On Caleb’s arrival, Nathan reveals to him that his home doubles as his research facility and he has been secretly developing a humanoid robot with advanced AI named “Ava.”  Nathan solicits the participation of Caleb to conduct a Turing test on Ava to determine if she can pass off as human, which Caleb agrees to.  As Caleb continues to interact with the sensuous Ava, he wrestles with his growing feelings for her as well as the nagging suspicion that Nathan hasn’t been completely honest with him regarding the experiment.

Narrative-wise, the trailer of Ex Machina has unfortunately revealed enough details for someone watching the movie to predict almost every plot development and every plot twist, which diminished the suspense and surprise.  However, despite that, the narrative was consistently absorbing and intriguing.  The cast delivered compelling performances, and the dialogues were intellectually stimulating. 

In summary, Ex Machina is a superb, fresh, insightful, disturbing, and gripping science fiction psycho-thriller straight out of The Twilight Zone or Black Mirror.

Chappie is set on Johannesburg, South Africa wherein the police employ a state-of-the-art, armored robot force that they purchased from the weapons firm, Tetravaal.  Deon, a Tetravaal employee and the creator of the police robot units, develops an AI that can function the same way as the human mind.  Deon installed his AI on a damaged police robot unit intended to be disposed and it is reborn as “Chappie.”  As one would expect (it’s a familiar story), the rest of the movies sees Chappie struggling with his identity, being baffled and mimicking human behavior, and being eventually seen as a threat by mankind. 

While Ex Machina (rightfully) received acclaim from critics, Chappie, on the other hand, was brutally panned.  However, personally, I think it’s not that bad as its 30% Rotten Tomatoes rating suggests.  It does have its share of some genuinely entertaining and heartfelt moments.  But the story was generally untidy and uninteresting.  It felt like it was trying to be Short Circuit and District 5 and other things all at the same time.  Its tired but thoughtful message was lost in all that clutter

It can’t be helped to compare Ex Machina and Chappie.  Both movies tackled the same artificial intelligence premise, and both attempted to provide thought-provoking case studies on the implications of sentient, self-aware humanoid robots.  However, only Ex Machina succeeded in doing it in such a rich, engaging, and cerebral manner, that it simply can’t be helped but ruin Chappie, which is actually not a terrible film, for an audience who watched both movies within the same year. 

No comments: