Cinematic Releases: The Creator (2023) - Reviewed


Images courtesy of 20th Century Studios

Artificial Intelligence has long fascinated both artists and the general public, though up until relatively recently, it has remained in the realm of science fiction. In the past few years, however, AI has increasingly encroached on our day-to-day lives, causing fear and elation in equal measure. Gareth Edwards' newest film, The Creator (2023), tackles the feelings swirling around AI head-on, though it could more successfully convey its lofty themes to the audience.

The Creator takes place in the future, where humankind fully integrated AI into society with humanoid robots that share the labor burden but with limited rights. Eventually, the AI gains more sentience, and a rogue AI detonates a nuclear bomb in Los Angeles, killing millions of people. This is the catalyst for an American war campaign against AI and other countries who harbor them. A "New Asia" has been formed in this timeline, with several countries banding together along with AI robots.

Unfortunately, much of the establishing exposition is relegated to a two-minute montage at the beginning of the film, and it leaves out a lot of details that would help the viewer be more emotionally engaged with the characters and events in the narrative. We are quickly introduced to Joshua (John David Washington), a former special forces soldier who has gone through a tragedy involving a mission and his pregnant wife. He has PTSD from his line of work, which has also given him a hatred for AI robots. While Washington does what he can with the role, his character needs to be fleshed out more to provide him with a satisfying arc, and his persona comes off as relatively flat and generic.

One of the more exciting ideas in the film is the Vietnam War analogy with the Americans invading an Asian country, suffering significant losses, and killing innocent civilians. This message gets muddled somewhat because they mix several different Asian cultures together, and in real life, the US has a different relationship with each of them. It seems reductive on the part of the script to lump them all together as a shorthand for "Asian culture," and the film doesn't explore it other than for surface-level aesthetics. Eventually, Alphie (Madeleine Yuna Voyles), a child robot, is introduced, and it dabbles a bit into some Kundun (1998) vibes, but again, it's just visual referencing without the ideology to back it up. Underwriting deeper themes is a problem that plagues most of The Creator; it's not enough to reference better works; one must also have something to say about the subjects.

Visually, the film is spectacular, with a robust and consistent style and excellent special effects. It's a future that simultaneously feels advanced yet organic, with sleek technological designs up against grimier elements. The way the AI robots are depicted is inconsistent at times; in one scene, a robot is seen smoking a hookah, yet in a later scene, a robot apparently can survive in an environment with no oxygen. It seems that the intent is to have the audience empathize with the AI and treat them like humans, but then it has a sequence where a group of robots are blown up and their search for their missing body parts is played for laughs. There are several comedic tone switches that feel out of place, especially in a film that wants to be taken seriously.

It's a shame that the weak writing undermines The Creator so much, as there are some intriguing concepts that could have been compelling if executed better. For the most part, it's a mishmash of other movies with not much to say on its own.

--Michelle Kisner