Movie review: The Creator, offers some of the best original sci-fi we've seen in years
“We’re the same, we can’t go to heaven, because you’re not good, and I’m not a person”…
Movies are, not always but often, a mirror of our times. A readout of our collective fears and prejudices, hopes and passions, they observe cultural shifts and plot out the worst-case scenario trajectories. weaving morality tales of what might befall us if these corruptions are left unchecked. Sci-fi films tend to take these same themes and stage them in a physically remote time or place.
It’s at least a little disturbing then, that a lot of the science fiction that’s been hitting our screens in recent years is set in a near-future dystopia. It tells us a lot about how close we feel to the end of those catastrophic trajectories. ChatGPT may be writing our email sentences today, but fast forward a few decades, and there’s little disbelief that needs to be suspended for us to imagine a world where it’s writing our human gulag sentences.
Mostly because it’s so effortlessly tangible now, but the role artificial intelligence (AI) plays in these sorts of stories, is just the latest phase of an evolutionary archetype. The feared ‘other’. It’s that fundamental human tribalism writ large, ironically one where we shaved upright apes have finally put aside our own differences in skin colour, height, gender, religion and football team affiliation to come together and combat a common enemy, the machines.
Though humanity versus the robots, is the broad background to what goes on in this movie, helmed and co-written by British director Gareth ‘Rogue One‘ Edwards (writing credits are shared with Chris Weltz), the central action of The Creator deliberately and necessarily runs contrary to that. It’s not as simple as black and white, it’s not, and this is important… binary.
As always, I’ll keep the synopsis tied to anything you could glean from the trailer with nothing but teasers for what’s beyond it.
The main human character in the film is Josh (played by John David Washington), an undercover American military operative who’s tasked with surveilling a clandestine ‘terrorist’ cell made up of robots, simulants and sympathetic homo-sapiens in the rebel state of New Asia (which from the maps, looks to extend across South East Asia into neighbouring territories).
The very fact that these sympathisers exist flies some early, very bright-blood-red flags that maybe, just maybe the machines aren’t so malevolent after all, even if they did, allegedly, drop a nuke on LA. They live harmoniously with their inorganic New Asian counterparts, which robotically raises questions about who the real ‘other’ might in fact be.
With an impetuous American military, eager to capitalise on their advancing trench lines (aided in no small degree by their shiny new Promethean NOMAD death satellite), Josh’s cover operation is brought to an untimely end, and he is tragically separated from his beloved insurgent wife (played by Gemma Chan).
It’s not checkmate just yet. Word gets out that the captain of team robot, Nirmata (literally ‘the creator’ in Sanskrit), has developed a ‘super weapon’ capable of putting an end to NOMAD’s reign (and rain) of fire, and so Josh along with a team of WikiLeaks-grade marines is tasked with finding and retrieving the potential war-leveller.
Josh finds the weapon, which turns out to be a child simulant, vastly more sophisticated in design than anything seen before. He’s then immediately presented with a classic ‘complete the mission’ or ‘defy orders’ dilemma.
Prove you are not a robot
Most of what follows in terms of plot arc isn’t particularly difficult to predict, especially for fans of the genre and there are deals made with us, the viewer, that in order for us to enjoy the movie we must look the other way during some of the more unlikely story-establishing sequences. For a wanted man, Josh’s disguise wardrobe seems precariously reliant on hoodies.
But the rewards for doing so are uncategorisably immense. The Creator is a CGI opus, flesh and steel, heart and AI art, clan and kin, it’s a spectacle that nods to multiple films that have gone before it, as well as to more native, cascading, beautiful ideas. During the two-hour-with-a-bit-of-loose-change run time, we’re invited to grapple with religious avatars, with sentiency and the threshold for self determination, of what love is allowed to be, the dangers of transcorporationism and the military industrial complex.
It’s about connection, questioning core beliefs, looking beyond the binary for a heaven that represents a rainbow of grey shades. Our future is ultimately still within human hands.
Verdict: Expect AI-driven narratives to be a common thread in sci-fi movies from now until the apocalypse, but few will be able to match the visual precision and emotional depth of The Creator.
The Creator is out in UAE cinemas from Wednesday, September 28. Book tickets: here
Images: Disney via Getty