By Chris Lee
Updated November 04, 2014 at 05:00 PM EST
Credit: Sony

Leave it to District 9 writer-director Neill Blomkamp to tap the humanity lurking inside a robot.

The futurist filmmaker’s R-rated sci-fi action-adventure Chappie (due in theaters Mar. 6) follows an experimental humanoid who’s abducted by criminals (Yo-Landi Vi$$er and Ninja of the South African rave-rap act Die Antwoord) en route to an Artificial Intelligence day of reckoning. Will Chappie’s capacity to think and feel for himself result in “the next step in evolution”?

The film’s trailer—which makes its exclusive debut at EW—showcases the motion-capture performance of Blomkamp muse Sharlto Copley (Elysium, District 9) as the titular robot. He’s a gentle presence with a bulletproof metal skin programmed to paint pictures, write poetry and “have original ideas” (which apparently include watching Masters of the Universe cartoons, acting “cool and tough” and petting dogs).

While a recent Avengers: Age of Ultron promo clip gives explicit acknowledgement to Pinocchio via its melancholy rendition of the movie marionette’s theme song “I’ve Got No Strings,” Chappie goes further. It introduces co-star Dev Patel as a kind of Geppetto: a young scientist whose Artificial Intelligence breakthrough comes as an unintended—and unwanted—surprise for the company that employs him.

Perhaps more shocking, a resplendently mullet-ed Hugh Jackman appears here as a raging anti-A.I. emissary hell-bent on turning the title hero into so much scrap metal. “The problem with Artificial Intelligence is it’s way too unpredictable,” Jackman intones in the clip.

Although Blomkamp’s creation fits into a formidable continuum of self-perpetuating movie robots that extends from Wall-E to The Terminator to Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey, Chappie’s journey of self-discovery stands apart from so much dystopian dramatization. Alternately whimsical and violent, it’s a Johannesburg-set coming-of-age story about a kid from a dysfunctional family struggling to make the right choices—a kid who just happens to be a machine.