It’s a common science fiction trope that robots are capable of showing more humanity than most humans. When that trope is done well, the result ends up being extremely moving and thoroughly compelling. This is the case with The Creator, directed by Gareth Edwards (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Godzilla). The film is set on Earth in the near future, where artificial intelligence has advanced to the point where robots are fully acclimated with humans. After the AI leveled Los Angeles with a nuclear weapon, the U.S. went to war with them and the region in which they lived, New Asia.
John David Washington (Tenet, Blackkklansman) stars as Joshua, a soldier tasked with destroying the ultimate weapon created by the inventor of the AI, Nirmata. But after he finds out that the weapon is a synthetic child, he attempts to protect her from the U.S. forces. Alphie, the aforementioned child, is played by Madeleine Yuna Voyles, and she delivers a brilliant performance, especially for her first role. Allison Janney (The West Wing, Mom) plays Colonel Howell, the head of the team that hunts down Alphie, while Ken Watanabe (Inception, Godzilla) plays Harun, a synthetic who tries to hide her.
The Creator Is an Original Science Fiction Story
The Creator is a thought-provoking movie that borrows many elements from popular science fiction stories, cherry-picking the best parts to create an original narrative that attempts to reflect our history. Be warned: The trailers hid many elements of the film’s plot, so we will be going into some spoilers. But, the spoilers will be focused on roughly the first 30 minutes of the movie, as we wouldn’t want to spoil any of the turns the film takes, of which there are a few.
Science fiction can often be quite dense, with what feels like forced worldbuilding. The beginning of The Creator told the story through what felt like propaganda and advertising, all wrapped into one. The opening seemed to be inspired by the beginning of Huxley’s Brave New World, albeit The Creator’s opening is briefer. We are then introduced to Joshua in New Asia, whose wife Maya, played by Gemma Chan (Eternals, Crazy Rich Asians), is expecting a child. After a raid by the U.S. forces and their NOMAD station levels the land in an attempt to kill the illusive Nirmata, Joshua becomes a broken man.
So, when General Andrews, played by Ralph Ineson (The Office, The Witch), and Colonel Howell task him to return to New Asia to kill Nirmata, he does so, hoping that his wife might have survived. After an exaggerated look at how the team treats the locals, they manage to infiltrate the facility housing the weapon that Nirmata created, Alfie. Joshua and Alfie then go on a journey to find Maya while escaping Howell and her right-hand man, McBride (Marc Menchaca). Joshua soon realizes that Alfie isn’t an ordinary synthetic and that she has the power to control technology.
The movie is separated into chapters, which paces it quite well, especially when each chapter takes place in different locations, with separate themes in each. For example, one of the best compliments I can give the movie is that the relationship between Joshua and Alfie, once they meet, is reminiscent of Terminator 2: Judgement Day, except with the roles switched. Alfie is the machine learning to live, while Joshua is the one who is passing off his personality and emotions. This is the emotional heart of The Creator, one of a father and surrogate child.
A Stark Reflection of Our World
In addition to the homages to other pieces of media, The Creator also alludes to some real-world events. The most obvious one is the September 11 attacks. The main reason behind the United States’ hostility towards the AI is because they completely leveled Los Angeles with a nuclear weapon. They have a section of the city cordoned off, with humans tasked with clearing the site, which has been dubbed “Ground Zero.” It can be concluded that The Creator connects the invasion of Afghanistan to the invasion of New Asia, as it depicts the U.S. invading another territory after an attack on their soil. It is an apt and powerful allusion to history that is still fairly fresh for us but decades in the past for them.
In hindsight, 2023 seems like the perfect time to release this movie. Not only have we seen the rise of AI, but the message of one of the biggest movies of the year, Oppenheimer, is that the world will use the weapons they build. That coming to the forefront of my mind while sitting in the theater couldn’t be helped as I watched the U.S. bomb New Asia over and over again throughout the course of the movie. This isn’t to say the film is pro-AI, but it definitely seems to be anti-war.
The Creator even manages to provoke questions of philosophy. Multiple times throughout the movie, the humans remind themselves that the synthetics don’t feel pain, that they were programmed. But, if a robot is programmed to make a sandwich, it would make a sandwich. If they are programmed to feel pain, would they not feel that pain? It’s just one of the many areas that the film delves into over the course of its 133-minute runtime.
All Hail The Creator
What I haven’t touched on yet is just how beautiful The Creator looks. Every shot in the movie feels authentic. While it’s a science fiction movie, and some settings are obviously more futuristic than others, every location feels like it fits in the world of the film. But every shot is well-lit, terrifically composed, and, for the most part, interesting. There’s not a moment in the movie where I was disinterested because while there’s exposition, the world of The Creator expands through environmental storytelling.
It helps when there isn’t a weak performance in the cast, even when some characters are clear caricatures of an archetype. Allison Janney comes across as an angry, older, alternative universe C. J. Cregg, but it’s still thoroughly entertaining. And despite preconceptions I had, Washington managed not to be a shadow of his character from Tenet, so he hopefully won’t be typecast as the “science fiction protagonist” after The Creator. It’s also worth noting that both the soundtrack and Hans Zimmer’s score fit the film perfectly, particularly with the repeated use of Clair de Lune. Some may find the use of the piece exploitative to capture an emotional response from the audience, but it did fit, and the story itself is strong enough on its own.
With all its twists and emotional beats, the story is one that I’ll be thinking about for a while. The same can be said for many of the film’s messages and the questions it leaves the audience with. The Creator should go down as one of the best science fiction movies of all time. For that only time will tell, but for now, it’s at least one of the best films of 2023. You can catch The Creator in theaters from September 29, 2023.