I do not believe there is anyone alive who cannot enjoy a bildungsroman; no person can find the situations or characters truly unrelatable because everyone has experienced a coming-of-age in some way and everyone has matured at some point in their life. The danger with these stories, however, is that they are inherently formulaic. After all, the entire arc is in the phrase "coming-of-age story." While unique stories can come from the genre, it's hard not to realize how massively similar they all are, whether you're looking at The Catcher in the Rye or The Lion King. With Chappie, however, Neill Blomkamp, after his first two feature films established himself as one of the most unique creative minds in science-fiction, has done the impossible: he has created a truly original work of art out of this formula.
Now, to clarify, yes, there are very clear moments that are heavily influenced by previous works of art. The designs of both of the primary robots that appear in this film are directly based on the designs from Appleseed and RoboCop, two classic science-fiction properties in their own right which do touch on similar themes as this film such as the meaning of consciousness and the line between man and machine. The plot of the film itself borrows heavily from the likes of RoboCop, Short Circuit, Ghost in the Shell, and many other legendary sci-fi stories as well, but what makes this film truly unique is not in spite of this fact, but, rather, because of this fact. Although this film certainly takes many ideas, the primary concept of Chappie goes beyond the surface-level themes that almost all stories about artificial intelligence tackle by actually being a deconstruction of coming-of-age stories as a whole as well as an analysis of youth in general, an emotionally gripping and thematically intricate work of art that speaks more to the modern generation than any other film in recent memory.
That's not to say there aren't issues with this movie; there absolutely are. The characters of Yolandi and Ninja, played by the members of the same name from South African rap group Die Antwoord, are neither complex nor well-acted, seeming to exist primarily to add the element of classism that Blomkamp's oeuvre to this point has existed to explore. These characters do have their place in the story, acting as two parenting styles for Chappie, a police robot who had an artificial intelligence installed that made him act like a child. Yolandi and Ninja act as the nurturing and abusive parents, respectively, which serves as the main issue I have with this film and Neill Blomkamp's work in general; in his worlds, there is no such thing as a moral gray-zone. There is always a clearly good and evil side to every issue, something that also exists in this film through the conflict between Dev Patel and Hugh Jackman's characters. There is absolutely nothing redeemable about Ninja or Jackman's characters in this film, both acting entirely motivated by greed while never actually gaining personalities beyond being the "bad guys." Blomkamp, as a writer and director, focuses so deeply on dichotomies and absolutes and suffers for it in all his work.
Fortunately, however, where the morality lacks complexity, the philosophical aspect of Chappie is still very intricate, a menagerie of various concepts and questions concerning free will, intelligence, police brutality, parenthood, and our modern excess of technology. All these ideas are very standard science-fiction fare, of course, but they all come together beautifully. This is because Chappie, as a character, is emblematic of ourselves, not just of technology. There is one rather poignant scene in which the android, at a very young level of maturity, turns on a TV and sees He-Man, proceeding to imitate the character, lifting the TV remote as his sword. Although brief, this scene stands as a prime example of what the movie's point is; to quote Oscar Wilde, "Life imitates art far more than art imitates life." I believe that what Neill Blomkamp was trying to say with this movie is that not only does life imitate art, art imitates art. We have our creations moving ever forward, but the past remains a constant, and that's what makes it possible. In a sense, Chappie is not a "rip-off" of RoboCop or Short Circuit as people have accused it of being; it is not even an homage. This movie, in fact, is those two movies, and many more.
While massively flawed and awkwardly cast (one has to wonder how this alternate universe has Die Antwoord as non-musicians who listen to Die Antwoord's music and have their merchandise), I do believe there is a level of beauty to Chappie that makes it, in my own eyes, Neill Blomkamp's most exciting, incredibly work yet. Building a world full of gorgeous special effects, intensely violent action sequence, and some rather unsettling moments, it is difficult to capture a human element, but, here, Blomkamp most certainly has, and I am certainly thrilled to see where he goes as an artist after reaching such highs so quickly.