Review: Sci-Fi Action ‘The Creator’ – This Movie Isn’t Really About A.I.

Review: Sci-Fi Action ‘The Creator’ – This Movie Isn’t Really About A.I.

by Alex Billington
September 28, 2023

The Creator Review

“Whose side are you on, huh?” Let’s get right into it – time to dig into this one… For the record, I’ve been a huge fan of Gareth Edwards ever since his first feature Monsters, writing a glowing review out of Cannes 2010 after catching a small screening. Now 13 years later he’s back with another original sci-fi movie titled The Creator, a big budget studio picture that is entirely his idea. The script is credited to Gareth Edwards and Chris Weitz, but Edwards gets the sole “Story by” credit on this movie. First things first, The Creator is visually astonishing and deserves to be seen on the big screen for the visuals alone. However, the rest of the movie feels rather empty, without much of a story besides another Lone Wolf and Cub rehash built into a bigger A.I. vs humans / America vs Asia world. Despite the movie being set in the future where humanoid robots are as common as regular fleshy human beings, it needs to be stated clearly – this movie isn’t actually about Artificial Intelligence at all. It’s really another Vietnam War tale turned into an action sci-fi spectacle.

In an era of reboots, sequels, adaptation, and remakes, it’s really, really nice to see a completely original sci-fi movie. And this stands out being so big and bold and fresh. In terms of the visuals and world-building, this movie is off the charts spectacular. In terms of the story and script, this movie is underwhelming. It’s a good movie but lacks depth exploring any themes beyond just the basics. There’s not even that much to talk about after. Here’s a guy, who you don’t know much about (as usual with John David Washington in a lead role), who lost his wife, who we also don’t know much about. He just wants her back. That’s the main plot of this movie, wrapped around the “but there’s also robots & America hates them” near-future context. Edwards’ world-building is phenomenal because he builds it all around what they shot. He has explained in interviews for The Creator that they went out and shot all of it, then came back and created everything else and designed the world to make it feel big and exciting. Yes, that is exciting, and it’s enjoyable and satisfying to watch, but by the time it was over I felt empty. Even trying to discuss it, what is there get into? Not much.

Once the movie gets going, there’s a reveal part of the way in that it’s essentially America against Southeast Asia. They don’t like this generic “New Asia”, as it is known in the future, because they’re friendly with the A.I. and have learned to integrate and live with them. Americans don’t like this A.I. because, well, something happened and a nuke exploded in Los Angeles and they blame the A.I. All this context is based not only on America’s response to 9/11, but also America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. That is really what the film is about – American imperialism and military might. They even have this gigantic aerial battle-station called “NOMAD“, which is also an obvious reference to the very real “NORAD” located in a mountain in Colorado Springs. Except this one can fly anywhere around the planet and destroy anything. Somehow the American’s have unlimited, unchallenged authority to go wherever and attack anyone with this ship. This is also an interesting reference to what happened during the building of the atomic bomb – and why some scientists leaked info to the Russians, because they didn’t believe America should have complete, monopolistic control over the ultimate weapon. In this movie, they do. However, the how & why of this thing is left unexplained.

Going in to watch The Creator, I was thinking wow it’s impressive how Gareth Edwards was able to capture the zeitgeist of 2023 with its eerily relevant story about Artificial Intelligence. As everyone knows, A.I. has taken over the tech world in 2023, including in Hollywood – the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes are partially about A.I. and how they will use it. However, watching this movie I realized – it doesn’t actually tap into the zeitgeist at all. Robots and A.I. have been a major part of sci-fi storytelling for decades. All of the conversations around The Creator involve everyone projecting 2023 thoughts about A.I. onto a movie that was conceived of years ago and filmed in early 2022. I’ve heard critics wondering if the movie is supposed to make us wonder if we should bow down to our benevolent A.I. overlords, instead of be against them (as is happening in the real world in 2023) because it depicts them as being so kind. One of them even says at one point that they would never harm humans, it’s not in their coding to do so (a reference to the first law of Isaac Asimov’s “Three Laws of Robotics”). But thinking this is missing the point of the entire movie. These robots aren’t really the same as A.I. in 2023, they’re actually foreigners: Vietnamese, Thai, and other Asians.

The Creator Review

The movie’s actual commentary and concept is about America’s perceived ultimate superiority and desire to eradicate anything it wants or deems a “threat”, including going to over to countries in Southeast Asia, like Vietnam, and killing Vietnamese people (estimates are that upwards of 3 million Vietnamese were killed in the Vietnam War). In The Creator, the “threat” is A.I., but only because the A.I. are supposedly responsible for the nuclear explosion in Los Angeles. Instead of the movie being about Artificial Intelligence, it’s using A.I. robots as the main metaphor for striking commentary on America’s militaristic ego and imperialism. It just so happens that A.I. became a major topic in 2023 and thus the movie found the right time to debut in theaters. Aside from the world-building, there is no actual dialogue or conversations or commentary in the movie about A.I. and what it means and how it works. The simple question of, can we co-exist with A.I., is a remarkably common question in most sci-fi; it’s something that almost every sci-fi writer over the last 60 years has pondered and considered in their work. This movie adds absolutely nothing to that conversation.

Ultimately, The Creator is just another sci-fi action spectacle with lots of guns and explosions that could use a much better script. Many of the quieter scenes where Joshua is laying low waiting for the next attack could have become scenes where they discuss Artificial Intelligence, technology, and the ‘bots that are everywhere. There’s not much backstory or explanation as to how the robots came to power, how they got blamed for the nuclear explosion in Los Angeles, how they got so advanced, how New Asia successfully integrated them into their society, how they learned how to be human-like, who invented them, who profits off of building them, etc. Movies like The Matrix and Blade Runner explore these topics right in the plot, but The Creator does not – it wants to be more of a cinematic experience based on sci-fi aesthetic than anything else. As for the script, it’s entirely about the connection between Joshua and the young robot he finds and names Alphie (played by Madeleine Yuna Voyles). The whole time, I could not stop thinking – this guy is a really bad dad. He never learns how to be a better caretaker of this kid, like Mando does in “The Mandalorian” series.

One of the movie’s highlights is Allison Janney starring as Colonel Howell, who is Joshua’s commanding officer from the government watching over the mission. Much like Stephan Lang’s iconic performance as the mean bastard Quaritch in Avatar, she’s another grizzled badass villain character in a big sci-fi movie that many will remember. While at first it may seem like unconventional casting, she handles the role with the right amount of grit and calm to stand out among the rest of the cast. There’s a scene in the first half where she connects with Joshua as they’re flying to Asia, as if she gets him and understands him. This bit of well-played empathy worked because it even got me, at first I thought she might end up being one of the “good guys.” Not much later we find out, oh right, she’s just another mean military tool whose jackboot mentality continues to threaten lives no matter where they go or what Joshua does to put an end to this dangerous pursuit. Madeleine’s performance as Alphie is also endearing, though at times she’s a bit hokey and phony.

If I’m honest, I do hope this movie ends up being a big hit anyway because it will mean good things for sci-fi and original storytelling. Hollywood needs to know a completely original creation like this is worth making and worth investing in, and movieogers will connect with it. That said, it’s far from the sci-fi masterpiece it could be, and I still must emphasize how simplistic and empty it is thematically. I wish was walking out of this movie engaging in deep philosophical discussions about Artificial Intelligence, but I’m not. Because it’s not about A.I., it’s about how America will exterminate anything it deems a threat to its way of life, without any desire to understand anything more beyond “they’re bad and we need to get rid of them.” Which is one of the lessons of this movie that is nice for humanity, but not right for real world tech. Earlier in 2023, one of the creators of modern A.I. left Google so he could “sound the alarm about A.I.” and its danger. This is the opposite of the message in The Creator because these are different conversations about different ideas, and we shouldn’t conflate the two. Enjoy this movie for how beautiful looks on screen, but not for anything else.

Alex’s Rating: 7.5 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter – @firstshowing / Or Letterboxd – @firstshowing

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