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The Creator review: this AI uprising may bore you to death

Gareth Edwards' The Creator tells a tale we've heard countless times – but will its impressive effects be enough to keep us captivated?

It is a risky move – to say the least – to release a film that is as boldly pro-AI as The Creator in a time when our suspicions surrounding artificial intelligence are at an all-time high.

The Creator is about a big war, set in an alternate future, between the human race and artificial intelligence. As said war rages on, an ex-special forces agent named Joshua (John David Washington) is recruited to hunt down and kill the ‘Creator’, the elusive architect of advanced AI that has the power to end the world. But, he soon discovers that this Creator is not at all what they expected – and that the world-ending weapon is simply an AI-child (Madeleine Yuna Voyles, in a breakout role).

Can human compassion ever fully translate to an artificial intelligence? And will the war end with a mutual understanding, or all-out destruction?

Robots have feelings too

With a plot that is one part Aasimov, two-parts Spielberg, and with a heaping of Avatar sprinkled with extra-strength Michael Bay explosion formula, The Creator is Gareth Edwards’ attempt at a thought-provoking sci-fi flick. Better yet, it’s marketed to appeal to kids and adults alike – and it has Disney money. With all of that and a bag of chips going for it, The Creator could be the blockbuster hit of the spring.

Except, to many people that have seen a movie in the last 10 years, I suspect it will feel like a montage of seen-it-before moments driven by wishy-washy characters that don’t have a memorable quality between them.

Where to begin? The script, co-written by Gareth Edwards and Chris Weitz, packs in just about every sci-fi cliché there is. We start with Joshua, a military lone-wolf figure whose wife Maya (Gemma Chan) gets predictably fridged, all the way through to a precocious, supernaturally-powered child (that would be Alphie, the super weapon mentioned above) that tries to melt lone-wolf Joshua’s heart.

In this version of our future, the war against AI has raged on for decades between the US – which remains largely the same as it is in real life – and ‘New Asia’, a mishmash of Chinese, Japanese and Nepalese cultures that universally believes AI is good and beneficial to society, even in the aftermath of a nuclear explosion detonated by the robots.

The kindest thing I have to say about this is that Edwards’ assertion that AI will someday go rogue and that the US will blame it on an entire continent is the most interesting and likely-to-be-prescient thing about The Creator.

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A scene still from 20th Century Studios’ THE CREATOR. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2023 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

Music and visuals

In amongst a forgettable score by Hans Zimmer, the film has some bizarre needle-drops. In 2065, will we still be listening to Radiohead? Perhaps. But in the middle of a war with robots, wouldn’t it feel just a little on the nose?

Edwards also seems to have an obsession with Clair de Lune, the kind of classical music piece you think is deep when you are 15. Or maybe I’m being too unkind. After all, whole swathes of the film present as though they’ve been group tested at least five times, and then peppered with Marvel-esque wisecracks and popular music to enhance its marketability. Edwards may have had very little say in it.

I should also mention that it does have pretty visuals. The IMAX presentation I was fortunate enough to see was worthwhile for that alone. The AI characters, each of them with a spinning metallic mechanism where their pituitary glands should be, achieve an effective uncanny valley feeling which had me wondering how I would feel going to war against robots that looked and talked like us.

The centrepiece of the film – the gigantic hover station/weapon known as NOMAD – has as much screen presence as any of the named characters, and it’s clear their VFX money has been well spent. Other than that though, The Creator’s paint-by-numbers plot, one-dimensional characters (that we know little about even as the credits roll) and clunky one-liners like ‘See you in Valhalla!’ will leave much to be desired.

Allison Janney as Colonel Howell in 20th Century Studios’ THE CREATOR. Photo by Oren Soffer. © 2023 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

All bots go to heaven

Speaking of lines, poor Allison Janney, in her role as military hard-arse Colonell Howel, is reduced to nothing but plot exposition and non-sequiturs about Neanderthals. It’s a real waste of her character actor prowess. And as for Alphie, the AI child, Disney’s made a real gamble here on her being the next Eleven/ET/ Hayley-Joel Osmond type – especially when her most memorable lines include: ‘We have something in common, Joshua. You’re not going to heaven because you’re a bad person. And I’m not going to heaven because I’m not a person.’ Woof.

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The focus on the afterlife, particularly the Christian ideal of the afterlife (‘Am I going to heaven now?’ Alphie questions again), shouldn’t come as a surprise for a film called The Creator. The analogy is obvious. But it definitely comes off as preachy, and adds to the overall vibe that this is a pro-US Military propaganda piece.

But wait – I hear you say – weren’t the military the bad guys in this film? Well, sure – but the good guy is also a military man, and presents that tired old argument of ‘it’s not the system that’s wrong, it’s just a few bad eggs.’ Joshua is the ‘good guy with the gun’ we can all rely on, got it?

I think the moment the film truly lost me was when the camera zoomed in on a monkey in the jungles of ‘New Asia’, who found a bomb controller and promptly detonated it on the bad guys. I … don’t really know what else to say about that. Nature fights back, but for some reason it’s on the side of the robots, I guess?

It’s rare that a film makes me want to take an angry nap in the middle of it, so I genuinely have to hand it to The Creator for achieving this feeling in me not once, but twice.

The Creator is in cinemas now. It’s rated M.

Silvi Vann-Wall is a journalist, podcaster, and filmmaker. They joined ScreenHub as Film Content Lead in 2022. Twitter: @SilviReports