In Review: The Creator (2023)

Tim Robins went to see the new SF spectacular, The Creator. But after two hours and 22 minutes, doesn’t know what to make of it…


The Creator (2023)

I wasn’t looking forward to seeing The Creator. The trailer looked awesome, although I worried that it may have given too much of the plot away. It hadn’t, and the look of the film lives up to the glimpses I’d see. I finally became emotionally involved in the characters but only in the last hour and, by then, I had become weary of the film’s mawkish sentimentality and evocation of a Vietnam war in the future.

The film is set in the latter half of the 21st century and a decade or so after a nuclear bomb obliterates downtown Los Angeles. The destruction triggers a war between humans and AI – please don’t mistake AI for robots or cyborgs or people with prosthetic limbs provided to them (but only if they can afford it, I guess.)

After mock old-time TV adverts champion the usefulness of robots to humanity, we are plunged into a family drama. US sergeant Joshua Taylor is cosying up to his pregnant wife, Maya, who is unaware that she is being used to get to a spiritual AI weapon thing called Nirmata. Taylor’s cover is blown when his home gets caught up in an attack by a US strike force led by a flying targeting-bomb dropping device called NOMAD.

Five years later, Taylor discovers the AI weapon is a child Tylor nicknamed ‘Alphie’. Who could the child possibly be? How did Taylor’s wife escape the attack on their home? And where is she now? These and many other questions, most of which you will have answered way before the film does.

The Creator (2023)

The infodumping flashbacks and dramatic time jumps really bog down the start of the film. It took me ages to care about any of the central characters. It took over an hour for me to become involved in the plot, and that was thanks largely to Madeleine Yuna Voyles’ wonderful performance as ‘Alpha-0’/ Alphie. John David Washington commits himself to the role of Taylor, but his character never rises above the role of a plot device.

One of the disappointments of the film is its dreary, cliched plot that rests on stereotypes and plot moves that any seasoned follower of SF cinema will have seen before. At times the opening hour is a distracting collection of scenes reminiscent of Aliens (1986), Elysium (2013), and Oblivion (2013).

The Creator (2023)

Director and co-writer Gareth Edwards has cited influences such as the design of Blade Runner (1982), Akira (1988) and Star Wars (some time or other in the 1970s). The Creator is more than these references. The look of these moves is imaginatively built on. There’s some excellent world building going on.

Edwards has been praised for his earlier offerings, including Monsters (2010) and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016). Monsters showed us that Edwards can evoke a genuinely eerie atmosphere while Rogue One injected a much needed grittiness into the Star Wars Universe. The Creator gives Edwards a big enough canvas to showcase these talents. The landscapes and tech look magnificent. The various ships and gadgets strongly evoke the covers of 1970s SF paperback books. Yes, I am talking about Chris Foss.

The Creator (2023)

For a mere eighty million dollars Edwards has delivered an impressive spectacle. But the plot really doesn’t deliver anything particularly new. It’s humans vs AI, which should be a hot topic but it is rather a routine story of an ‘innocent’ child embodying the hope of all humanity and her Mum and Dad whose sacrifices allow her to live and fulfill her future, the human interest story, cloying, overwrought and with a whiff of religiosity.

Can AIs go to Heaven? I neither know nor care (although I hope to be united one day with my long-dead, long-haired miniature dachshund). In the film, ‘the family’ has a queasy, sacred air as the holiest of all social arrangements.

The Creator (2023)
The Creator (2023)

Some influences, such as Apocalypse Now (1979), really should have been left alone. The Creator’s depiction of AIs as born-again Buddhist is just another iteration of orientalism. Yes, the juxtaposition of robotics and spiritual robes is visually striking, but it takes the film in a direction it would have been better not to one. And, as I mentioned earlier, I really objected to the club-you-over-the-head nods to the Vietnam War.

America needs to take its failures on the chin. The conflict in Vietnam was a horrible mess, that traumatised many of its participants and created an atmosphere where atrocities seemed commonplace. Hollywood’s films, including the Avatar franchise, and this, are just plasters over the scars of the American psyche. Using SF to time-wash the past does a disservice to those caught up in the real war. No matter how beautiful the future may look, the ugliness of colonial and imperial ambitions are visable just below the surface, and sometimes totally in your face.

Some critics have complained that The Creator’s ending is rushed. I disagree, it is well paced but tedious as you wait for the chess pieces to fall into their pre-ordained place.

Personally, I left the cinema wanting my time back. But neither cinema nor history would oblige.

Tim Robins

The Creator is in cinemas across the country now | Official Site

Categories: Features, Film, Other Worlds, Reviews

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1 reply

  1. Your reviews are always enjoyable, Tim! And I’m sure accurate.

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