So as promised I am going to look at some films that share themes, ideas and stories. Neil Blomkamp’s Chappie is certainly not being well received by critics right now, and many people have started to accuse its robot designs of plagiarising designs seen in Robocop, Japanese Anime, and Big Hero 6. But I think it could have been drastically improved if it had looked at Brad Bird’s 1999 box office bomb, but still truly wonderful, animated science fiction tale. (Spoilers ahead for both films)
The robots from each film had a very similar background, both built for war, but now forced to discover the world from a child-like perspective, while being hunted by the people who misunderstand him. Chappie did get its robot right, just like the Iron Giant. The problem came from the human interaction as the character that we thought would teach it, its young inventor, was abandoned in favour of those criminals. The human/robot relationship should have been the anchor of that film. Bird made sure that both characters learned from each other and developed interestingly, none of that happened with Chappie and the criminals, instead we disliked the humans so much that we just wanted Chappie to leave them.
With The Iron Giant we grew to care just as much about the human as we did about the awesome robot. They grew together and each had qualities that the other missed. Ultimately we understand at the end why the Giant’s death is necessary as we care enough about the boy to want him to survive, and if that means we have to let go of Vin Diesel’s giant robot then we have to accept. Chappie should have been even better at this because an older human means we can have a more intelligent level of discussion between the two and because the machine is only six foot tall it can literally be on a more personal level. But the Iron Giant does this well with the machine storeys higher than our hero.
As well as this the trailer gave us the image of Chappie raising his arm, imitating He-Man having seen him on TV. This got me excited as something similar was seen in Iron Giant. We saw the Giant learn his morals from reading Superman comics, he got his sense of right and wrong from kids stories of superheroes, just like we did. So that makes him so relatable and so likable to the audience even though he isn’t human. Chappie looked at this for about one scene, then dropped. Brad Bird brings it up again and again, at poignant moments. As the Giant sacrifices himself, his last words and the answer to the question ‘what do you choose to be’ are; Superman.
The villain also needs to be looked at. Hugh Jackman is good but there’s no motivation, no reasoning, nothing to make us sympathise with him. In the Iron Giant the military commander who wants to destroy the Giant starts out as a man who wants to be a hero, he wants to serve and protect his country while earning respect for himself as well. That means that when he sees something that anyone else would perceive as a threat, he acts. Even when he is given proof that he is wrong and the Giant is not a threat, he can’t accept it because every instinct and moral he has is telling him the proof is wrong, so he goes further, and it’s set in the cold war so his paranoia makes sense. A good motivation would have really enhanced the antagonists attack against Chappie.
The Iron Giant also knows what its themes and messages are. It deals with identity, militarism, paranoia, mortality and friendship. It ties them together in a clever, powerful and original way. Chappie starts off like a warning against A.I. Then it delves into human/robot relationships, then poverty, then crime, then redemption, then cowardice and courage, then something about what it means to be human, followed by some generic action sequences all tied up with the ending of Lucy. It’s disconnected and unfocussed. There’s no reason to admire the story because it doesn’t resonate on any level at all, from obvious to subversive.
So there you are, Bird’s animated film succeeded on all the levels that Chappie didn’t. If it had looked at why this film worked and then applied some methods to its own story, it might have worked.
What do you think is the best robot movie of all time, or of you want to leave a comment about the article, leave one below to let me know. Also feel free to leave suggestions for any other Relatable articles you want me to write. Thanks for reading.