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The Creator

Released 2023. Director: Gareth Edwards

THE FEAR OF ROBOTS TAKING OVER HUMAN JOBS hit a new high only a few months ago. Generative artificial intelligence tools such as ChatGPT drive up the fear factor over the rise of sentient AI. God forbid they become self-aware and the Terminator movies turn out to be prophecies. Some marketing guy got the timing perfect to release a movie at this precise moment in history to cash in on our existential anxiety.

The Creator takes place in 2065 when humanity is divided over the integration of AI. Ten years prior, a nuclear blast went off in Los Angeles. The US government blamed it on AI and launched an all-out war on the technology, which has continued to advance in part of the globe called New Asia where humans with AI enhancements are now commonplace. Troops led by Allison Janney’s character Colonel Howell comb New Asia onboard a space station to find Nirmata, the leader behind the movement to embrace AI.

In a flashback sequence, we see John David Washington’s character, a soldier named Joshua, has infiltrated AI supporters to get to Nirmata. The sympathetic outsider has even married Nirmata’s daughter Maya (Gemma Chan), who is heavily pregnant when Howell’s troops come raining down hellfire to flush out Nirmata. Joshua escapes but loses Maya and their unborn baby.

Back to the present, Joshua is again recruited by Howell to track down Nirmata. He’s a conflicted soldier who still believes in peaceful co-existence between humans and robots, so maybe he’s not entirely a suitable candidate for the job. But clearly there’s nobody else up for it.

Joshua returns to New Asia, presented in the movie as a single cultural group consisting of a hodge-podge of identifiable languages and characteristics in odd combinations. This is a shallow representation with scant regard for history and culture, jarring incongruities that pass as dated exoticism to the West.

To be fair, the visual depictions of New Asia are mostly innovative. The sight of rustic Asia with sci-fi elements have rarely, perhaps never, be seen like this in movies before. The ideas are terrific though the execution sometimes gets carried away and the imagery appears overly tinkered, like the time you went too far with Photoshop.

This is another big-budget project for Gareth Edwards, following Rogue One and Godzilla, after his indie debut Monsters in 2010. Bigger budget doesn’t always mean better quality and that’s certainly the case here. Monsters, which tells a small intimate human story against a backdrop of an alien-infested war zone is still Edwards’ best and showcases his skills in nuance and storytelling, which is here overwhelmed by a heavy presence of CGI intrusion.

The acting comes across perfunctory and flat. Allison Janney’s role is forgettable and ill-suited to her calibre, a cardboard character with no aim to develop her empathy or villainy. Washington should stop making movies that require a lot of running because it’s becoming a tired schtick. He’s already getting stale playing a man hotly pursued in action thrillers such as Tenet and Beckett and should return to mine his talents in movies like BlacKkKlansman.

Caught in the midst of this is Alphie, a child of human and AI blend with the power to control technology using her mind. By making the role of the chosen one in the mould of a golden child, all shaven and monk-like, the movie feeds into the stereotype of a holy child, another piece of far-east exotica I’m surprised they haven’t draped a saffron robe over.

The merciless bombings and military assaults on innocent civilians in rural villages are so reminiscent of the Vietnam War, one would have to be asleep not to see the intention here. Ideas like these are delivered without new perspectives and unsubtle about evoking historical associations, which makes them distasteful because it's an exploitation.

The message of the movie is we shouldn’t be afraid and instead should embrace the possibility of a peaceful future for humans and AI. The robots have more humanity than the war-mongering humans (the attack on LA is later explained away as a result of human error, not AI) and are a lot more attuned to understanding the value of life. But we already know that from the moment the child is introduced as the centrepiece. It’s a foregone conclusion who the real good guys are when you use a sweet innocent child as their representative instead of a Terminator.

Despite setting out to explore big themes like love and relationships, war and peace, humanity and technology, The Creator is hamstrung by uninspiring characters and unable to tackle familiar ideas with fresh takes. Instead, it slips constantly into generic action set-ups with a dose of sentimental slush. There’s even a Joshua-Maya reunion at the end just to wring your tear ducts. The Creator also tries to capture the spirit of Blade Runner in many ways but falls short every time for lack of vision and originality. If this movie was the work of AI then we have nothing to fear. Real humans with real talent and skills are still needed for great storytelling and filmmaking.

 Click image above to view trailer. New window will open.


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