The commercials for Neill Blomkamp’s Chappie want to sell it as a wild ride about eccentric gangsters and fighting robots. And sure, that’s largely what it is, but it's also a film about humanity’s relationship with AI at the time of its emergence. Chappie is no Her, but its attempts to ask similarly big questions are what make it memorable.
There's been a lot of scorn directed toward Blomkamp recently, mostly after 2013's Elysium failed to live up to his incredible debut with District 9. Even if Chappie once again falls short, Blomkamp still deserves credit for telling original sci-fi stories rooted in real issues. District 9 was about apartheid. Elysium was about class warfare and health care access. Chappie is about consciousness and parenting. It may not get to the heart of either, but it tries. And when it works, it works.
At its heart, Chappie is a film about family, albeit a very odd one consisting of a robot, a few gangsters, and a genius programmer. This is a family formed out of necessity and circumstance, because Chappie, despite being the very first intelligent robot on the planet, isn't actually that smart — at least, not at first. In the film, AI learns much faster than any human can, but it still has to learn. And it needs humans to learn from. Chappie starts at the earliest state, a child, but it quickly learns to speak, read, play, and act somewhat independently.