Film Review: The Creator
Director: Gareth Edwards
20th Century Studios
In Theaters: 07.29
There’s more than a little irony in the Writers Guild of America strike ending the same week that The Creator hits theaters. The use of artificial intelligence (AI) as part of the creative process, posing an existential threat to human creativity and survival, was a key point of the strike’s contention—and Gareth Edwards’ new film creatively tackles the subject of humanity vs. cybernetics.
The Creator is set in 2070 during an all-out war between humans and AI, which began when the AI detonated a nuclear warhead in Los Angeles. Joshua (John David Washington, BlacKkKlansman, Tenet) is an ex-special forces agent who served undercover in “New Asia” where the last of the AI groups are concentrated. Joshua is still grieving the death of his wife Maya (Gemma Chan, Crazy Rich Asians, Eternals) when he is pulled back into active service and tasked with returning to hunt down “Nirmata,” the mysterious architect of advanced AI. It seems that Nirmata has created a weapon capable of destroying mankind once and for all. Joshua travels deep into enemy territory only to discover the world-ending weapon he’s been instructed to destroy is a human simulant in the form of a child (Madeleine Yuna Voyles).
The Creator is a dark, dystopian sci-fi thriller that contrasts most of today’s assembly-line blockbusters by presenting a relevant and thoughtful storyline. While a future where AI turns against humans has been portrayed in film many times before, it’s usually used merely as a jumping-off point to set up a different story. The Creator is about the war itself, taking the cerebral complexity of the moral and scientific implications of mankind being threatened by its greatest creation—a potential next step in evolution—and contrasting it with the pragmatism of a “this is the enemy, we kill them or they kill us” conflict.
If the screenplay by Edwards and Chris Weitz (who also collaborated on Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) doesn’t go quite deep enough into the questions, it at least approaches them more thoroughly than films such as The Matrix or The Terminator. The Creator stands out as a blockbuster that feels like a movie rather than a product. It feels handmade by people rather than a conveyor belt churning out another piece of Marvel or Netflix “content.” That’s not to say it’s a perfect film, and some of the storytelling is a bit choppy. Yet, I found that touch of human imperfection to be oddly comforting.
It’s also a rare blockbuster that has a distinctly new aesthetic, with dazzling visual effects and production design. The various types of robots are similar to what we’ve seen before, though Edwards brings an added level of inventiveness and reality with clever ideas such as bulky mechanoids that are essentially part battering ram and part bomb with legs.
Washington is effective as the everyman protagonist. As an actor, his strength lies in natural believability rather than an abundance of magnetic screen presence, and it makes him a good match for a character whose purpose is more to serve the progression of the story rather than to be the true focal point. The cast is strong overall, with Ken Watanabe (The Last Samurai, Inception) adding a lot in the role of Harun, a simulant fighter of freedom for the AI. The most memorable performance by far comes from Voyles as Alphie, the young AI child. The young actress is a major discovery, bringing a depth of emotion, as well as a sense of maturity and understanding, that makes Alphie one of the most endearing characters in any film this year. Chan isn’t given enough screen time, and yet her presence hangs over the film throughout. It’s another near-perfect piece of casting.
The Creator isn’t necessarily going to be remembered as a masterpiece, but it is going to be remembered. In an age when popcorn entertainment often makes me wonder how different it would really be if it was written and produced by robots, The Creator has a spark of human passion and creativity that makes for a stirring cinematic experience. –Patrick Gibbs