8 Ways ‘The Creator’ Is Less Than The Sum of Its Parts
Oct 9, 2023   •   Mikhail Lecaros
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Oct 9, 2023   •   Mikhail Lecaros
The Creator is the latest science fiction film from director Gareth Edwards (Star Wars: Rogue One, Godzilla). Taking on the hot-button topic of artificial intelligence by way of some very familiar tropes, Edwards’ effort makes a compelling case for genre films not based on existing properties or franchises to tell their stories.
John David Washington (BlacKkKlansman) stars as Joshua Taylor, a former soldier in the United States’ long-running war against artificial intelligence, following a devastating nuclear attack. When an undercover operation to find the A.I.’s titular progenitor goes awry, he suffers the loss of his wife (Gemma Chan, The Eternals, Crazy Rich Asians) and unborn child.
Five years later, a retired Taylor is tasked with tracking down and eliminating the machines’ ultimate weapon. When the weapon turns out to be a robotic child (Madeleine Yuna Voyles), Taylor will be forced to confront the truth about his mission, his wife, and the war that connects them all.
Just to get it out of the way, we would be remiss if we didn’t say that this movie looks absolutely gorgeous, blending elements of Syd Mead’s Blade Runner aesthetic with touches of Ralph McQuarrie’s Star Wars designs and applying them to a hypothetical 2070 where robots have become commonplace. While the U.S. engages the robots in open war, the nations of “New Asia”, have embraced the technology, with synthetics living alongside humans in a variety of professions.
The sequences of sentient robots integrated into typical Southeast Asian provincial settings are exceedingly well-executed, if somewhat derivative. The film even has its own way of generating and overcoming the uncanny valley, wherein replicas of human faces are placed on robot bodies to make them appear more personable.
Over the last few years, the trope of a world-weary warrior traversing a dystopian landscape with an innocent in tow has cropped up with increasing regularity, from films like Children of Men to TV series such as The Mandalorian and The Last of Us. As with each of those, The Creator’s narrative largely serves as a means for the hero to reconnect with their lost humanity.
The scenes where Tyler bonds with the child-bot, whom he dubs, “Alphie”, are perfunctory; while it’s arguable that the immediacy with which Alphie warms up to Tyler can be chalked up to the former simply not knowing any better, it’s probably more a case of the filmmakers hoping nobody would notice their narrative deficiencies.
The notion of a First World power imposing its will on the Third World under the guise of some sort of “police action” is hardly a fictitious concept, so we won’t dive into it here, but it is unusual for such blatant messaging to emanate from a mainstream Hollywood film. Where previous sci-fi outings such as Aliens, Avatar, and Jurassic World drew mileage from corporate villains, the script here (co-written by Edwards) straight up depicts America’s hubris and imperialistic tendencies as the root of this cinematic society’s ills.
When it’s revealed that the war’s inciting incident may not have actually been the A.I.’s fault, it doesn’t really play out as a twist, so much as a dig at whatever armed conflict the White House is engaged in this week.
On the other side of the equation, we have the humans and robots whose wish for peaceful co-existence is threatened when American forces encroach on their (sovereign) territory. The A.I. faction is led by Harun, played by Ken Watanabe, who’s worked with Edwards before (in Godzilla and Godzilla: King of the Monsters). A stoic fighter, Harun is distrustful of Tyler, only acceding to the soldier’s request for help once he’s seen him in action.
In direct contrast with the cool brutality of the American military, the AI resistance forces are presented with earthy colors and peaceful demeanors. Whenever the invaders go on the offensive, each robot’s “death” is shown to be as devastating as if it were happening to actual humans.
With A.I. being one of the major issues that ground Hollywood to a halt earlier in the year, The Creator’s overarching theme of tolerance towards artificial life forms seems somewhat ironic, if not ill-timed. Where the latest Mission: Impossible had Tom Cruise battling A.I., Edwards goes out of his way to paint the technology as inherently benevolent, with Harun going so far as to state at one point, “Do you know what will happen to the West when we win this war? Nothing. We only want to live in peace.”
Of course, this isn’t to say that Hollywood blockbusters should be taken as any kind of statement on the ethical implications of A.I., but Edwards’ approach is certainly fascinating, given the current state of the industry. What it isn’t, unfortunately, is original, with each component piece coming across as derivative of earlier, better movies that the writer-director probably watched along the way.
For all of its style, The Creator delivers a startlingly standard-issue story on tolerance that’s pretty much predictable from the get-go. Unfortunately, whereas James Cameron was able to overcome the first Avatar’s predictability through his execution, Edwards doesn’t possess anywhere near the level of technical skill to pull off a similar feat here.
The lack of narrative novelty rears its head most notably with Gemma Chan’s Maya, whose storyline is saddled with a “twist” so pedestrian, it reduces her character to little more than a glorified plot point. By the time Alphie stumbles across the (plot)device meant to deliver the emotional payoff, it’s so laughably, implausibly abrupt that narrative catharsis is impossible.
Even the finale, which echoes the end of Rogue One, is robbed of its impact by the mere fact that the main character involved seems entirely disconnected (or delighted, it’s hard to tell) from the loss of life that’s just occurred.
A handsome production and a capable cast aren’t enough to cover for The Creator’s altogether average execution; sadly, the man behind the best big-screen Star Wars side story can’t seem to escape the shadows of his influences, making for that rare instance when the resultant film somehow amounts to less than the sum of its (well-chosen) parts.
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