Would everyone be so angry at artificial intelligence taking our jobs, stealing our artistic outlets, and potentially leading to nuclear Armageddon if it had a cute widdle face? The Creator dares to ask questions about humanity’s technological future. Not big questions. Not important questions. But definitely questions.
Set in an alternate reality where robo-progress in the 50s and 60s set up a world with ubiquitous mechanical helpers everywhere. Things were techno-groovy, until the bots nuked LA. Whoops! The mechs blame an errant line of code written by humans, while humans blame the AI that turned California into what people think New Jersey is like. Like we do whenever a bummer happens, the United States declared a war on something.
While Asia continued to embrace and further develop our cyber replacements, the U.S. built a trillion-dollar sky weapon called NOMAD. It illuminates things with glowing lights before firing missiles and is shaped like a giant T. That’s apparently the limit of its awesome capabilities. The battle between humanity and near-humanity is in its final stage, if only flesh folks can find Nirmata, who is basically robot Jesus.
Joshua (John David Washington) is a deep-cover operative whose pregnant wife, Maya (Gemma Chan), is the key to the U.S. getting their hands on Nirmata. For reasons never really explained, the military blow Joshua’s cover then blow up his wife with a bomb. Five years later, they’re like “Our bad, yo. Could you maybe help us find Nirmata again?” They also show him a video of his wife still alive.
Joshua is tasked with locating and destroying the AI’s ultimate weapon, which the trailers tell us is a robo-kid he calls Alphie (Madeleine Yuna Voyles). He shoots that child straight in the face. Kidding! The old movie trope of “grumpy tortured dude befriending precocious preschooler” is in play once more. As are a lot of cliched story beats. The Lone Wolf and Cub duo have to outrun an evil colonel (Allison Janney) and stop NOMAD before bada-boom happens and AI goes the way of NFTs.
Writer/director Gareth Edwards and writer Chris Weitz don’t reinvent the wheel but do decorate the hubcaps just beautifully. At no point in The Creator will you even be a little surprised, but the pathos is so heavy, you just may find dust in your eyes. The atmosphere is the star here, as Edwards and cinematographers Greig Fraser and Oren Soffer compose an authentic “lived in” world that visually reads as original because the Blade Runner city dystopias are contrasted with rice fields and Asian villages. It’s nice to see robots and humans settle things once and for all in fresh air for a change.
Washington really does try hard to use his charm and talent to spackle over the busted holes in logic. Voyles is a cutie patootie, and Janney unsurprisingly makes for a fantastic villain. Fittingly for a movie about wanna-be humans, there’s something indescribably hollow about The Creator. What is the message here? For all the talk of grief, rebirth, and afterlife, it’s not entirely clear what Edwards and company are actually saying.
The robots aren’t framed or presented as a surrogate for the working class. Their desire for survival is understandable and fair, but it is only ever literally articulated. Flipping the script on who is hero and villain in a “human v terminator” war is an original take, but you gotta give us a bit more if you want us to side with the ones and zeroes here. And if all of the larger issues are meant to just backdrop Joshua’s story about overcoming a betrayal of his wife, it’s very unclear what his character’s transformation is. He seemed ready to side with Mr. Roboto immediately after NOMAD nuked his unborn child. Everything else is just gilding the lily.
But what a nicely gilded lily it is. The Creator shows that Edwards understands how to puppeteer the sci-fi genre by its most familiar strings. It may only simulate life in its movements, but how different is that from what most of us do on a daily basis?
Grade = B-
Other Critical Voices to Consider
Siddhant Adlakha from Joy Sauce says “the imagery it trades on is so ill-conceived as to be offensive, from its scenes of soldiers executing robots draped in Buddhist robes, to its rebels who live in Hindu temples and wave triangular orange flags, the symbols of India’s modern right-wing Hindutva movement and fascist government. It’s a mish-mash of ideas and designs half-considered, even if that, by a white director and his white co-writer (Chris Weitz) whose arguably well-intentioned attempts at drawing parallels between their plot and the dehumanization of real Asian cultures—especially Southeast Asian countries like Vietnam and Cambodia, at the hands of American imperialism—ends up sapping their dignity in the process.”
John Lui at The Straits Times says “Given that this film’s progressivism is shown in the way it makes the anti-robot West the villains and the pro-robot Asians the noble underdogs, the romance feels like it comes from another time. The images of futuristic war machines rising out of the mist-shrouded vegetation are cool, though.”
Charles Pulliam-Moore at The Verge says “As occasionally moving as The Creator’s framing of Joshua and Alphie manages to be, they’re hard to take seriously with characters running around them saying things like ‘at full power, the weapon will be able to control all technology.’”