Movie Review: ‘The Creator’ pits man against machine in a futuristic critique of Western warfare

The sci-fi film released to mixed reviews, and tackles far more than just the future of AI. Warning: spoilers ahead!

Poster for The Creator, image courtesy of IMDB

AI is a hot topic in popular culture right now, and another AI-centered sci-fi movie has just hit the big screen: “The Creator.” 

“The Creator” takes place in the year 2060 – following the effects of a devastating nuclear detonation in Los Angeles. The United States blames artificial intelligence for the bomb, and vows to destroy all artificial intelligence on Earth. 

AI take refuge in “New Asia”– a futuristic combination of east and south Asian countries – where artificial intelligence is still welcomed.

The United States begins missions to target and destroy AI, often killing civilians in the process.

Joshua Taylor – played by John David Washington – is a former U.S. secret operative who has returned to New Asia five years after a disastrous undercover mission killed his wife, Maya. 

His goal was to get closer to the leader of artificial intelligence forces – Nirmata. Now the military needs him back for his expertise as they search for  Nirmata’s newest weapon – “Alpha O.” 

When he discovers that Alpha O is actually an AI child, Taylor is forced to make a decision between his job and his humanity. 

“The Creator” is directed by Gareth Edwards, who directed “Rogue One” and 2014’s “Godzilla”. In addition to John David Washington – Gemma Chan, Ken Watanabe and Allison Janney play supporting roles. 

From a box office standpoint, the film isn’t exactly a smash hit. After close to a month in theaters, “The Creator” has made just over $79 million at the worldwide box office – almost breaking even with its estimated $80 million dollar budget. According to Screenrant, the film would need to make back at least double its budget at the box office to be considered successful, which currently looks unlikely. 

One of the one things that’s unique about “The Creator” is the budget – which is  small compared to other movies produced by large studios this year. Despite the relatively small budget, the film is a visual masterpiece – with filming locations spanning from LA to Tokyo and Indonesia to Vietnam, all while futuristic visual effects such as vehicles, weapons and robots run across the screen. 

In an interview with Collider, Edwards said that the reason they were able to film in these locations was because they kept the crew small.

“If you have a crew small enough, then the cost of flying anywhere in the world with that group of people is cheaper than building a set. The second it's a bigger crew, now it's more expensive, and so let's just build a set, right?” said Edwards. 

In an era where green screen and CGI are often used instead of on-location filming, not only is it refreshing to see characters interact with the actual landscapes around them, but it also contributes to the realism of the film. By putting CGI sci-fi creations overtop an existing landscape, the visuals mesh surprisingly well together, and don’t look out of place. 

Another unique part of the film’s production was that many actors didn’t even know whether they were AI. In an interview with Screenrant, Edwards said that “We're making a film about AI. And so I think the thing I was really interested in … [bringing] to the table was how human everyone was.”

“And by the end, I stopped telling people if they were AI or not. I didn't want them to behave differently. I wanted it to be completely natural.”

When it comes to reviews, there are just as many critical reviews as there are positive. The film currently has a 67% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 7.1 out of10 on IMDB

Critics tend to either love or hate the movie. NPR called the movie a “muddled plea for human-robot harmony,” while IGN said it “looks amazing but doesn't have a lot to say.”

Meanwhile, the Guardian called it “a truly original man-v-machine sci-fi spectacular,” and the BBC said “The Creator” was a “ 'jaw-droppingly distinctive' sci-fi.”

Many reviews say that the film fell prey to cliches and tropes that have been done many times before – which is true. 

The trope of war between humanity and AI notwithstanding, there’s also the reluctant hero-child duo that seems to be in every third action movie that comes out. Not to mention, the fate of the entire world rests on this one chosen child. Meanwhile, the long-suffering hero is motivated by the loss of his wife. The list goes on. 

But cliches are rampant in all kinds of movies these days. Any viewer would be hard-pressed to find a film – especially a science fiction one – that doesn’t have some kind of reused trope within the plot. So, the question then becomes: Does the movie execute the cliche well?

Overall – though there are some slips – the film uses its cliches in compelling ways that further the story. There’s an emotion and an intensity to the film that makes it hard to look away, regardless of some overused tropes.

What makes the movie actually stand out, however, is that it’s not really a movie about AI. Sure, it’s about a war against AI, but the message goes beyond that into a critique of the United States’ role in modern warfare. 

By 2060, the United States created a military space station called NOMAD which launches military attacks from the sky. It evokes images of military drone strikes, but on an even larger and imposing scale. 

In New Asia, the military guns down and bombs hundreds of civilians during every mission to eradicate AI. They do not take the time to check if they are human are not. Characters can be killed off at any time. 

“The Creator” evokes images of the Global War on Terror and the Vietnam War. 

It’s fast-paced, it’s tense and people die. A lot of people die. It forces the viewer to consider what happens to civilians who are so often caught in conflict, and are senselessly murdered because of it. 

It’s a heavy film, but it may be worth the watch if you’re okay with some cliche.

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