Film reviews and more since 2009

The Creator (2023) review

Dir. Gareth Edwards

By: Steve Pulaski

Rating: ★★

Gareth Edwards began conceptualizing The Creator in 2019, so it is wholly awkward and unfortunate that a film suggesting AI could ultimately assist the livelihood of humans comes out the very same week the Writers Guild of America strike finally comes to an end — with one of the biggest hang-ups between writers and studios being the role of AI in the filmmaking process. Alas, this coincidence doesn’t lessen the film in any way. Its under-developed plot and characters do that on their own.

If The Creator does one thing extremely well, it’s the fact that it’s a visual marvel — one of the best looking movies of the year, with a price-tag under $100 million. Ironically, Edwards’ film looks far better than the ~$300 million Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, or even the $200 million Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. As film critic David Ehrlich astutely points out, it’d be a miracle if studios recognized this as a way to stay financially buoyant, rather than crossing fingers that an over-budget, overhyped movie grosses the GDP of a small country in order to please shareholders.

That, dear reader, is the same line of wishful thinking that keeps me believing AI won’t steal my career in radio right out from under me.

Set in the 2060s, The Creator opens with film reels touting the wonders of AI technology and robots, who have learned to coexist with humans. The reels are then interrupted with an announcement from the president, who is addressing Congress after AI set off a nuclear bomb in the middle of Los Angeles, killing a million people. The disaster prompts the United States to outlaw any and all forms of AI, while a hybrid-country known as “New Asia” still welcomes and utilizes the robots. A gigantic airborne AI-hunter spaceship known as Nomad, which shoots large blue beams down to the land below, sends a shiver down the spines of people, and serves as the West’s advantage.

But the West has no tabs nor control on “the Creator” (aka the “Nirmata”), the architect of AI, which could decimate not only the United States but the world. Dispatched on the search-and-destroy mission is Joshua Taylor (John David Washington), a former special forces officer who lost his wife, family, and arm in the attacks. Early into the fight, Joshua encounters a young half-AI/half-human girl he names “Alphie,” (newcomer Madeleine Yuna Voyles). He could kill her, but he harbors some hope that she could bring him to his wife, whom he believed had perished. He decides instead to shepherd her through warfare, ignoring commands not only from Colonel Howell (Allison Janney), but from Alphie’s team, led by Harun (Ken Watanabe), rendering him a rogue solider without a home.

Let’s talk about Alphie. She is valiantly played by nine-year-old Madeleine Yuna Voyles, who squeezes all she can from this character. The problem? She’s derivative and bland. Her cuteness as a character carries her. She’s precious and she’s unpredictable. She’s the adorable little girl for whom you can’t help but root. If Voyles wasn’t so convincing in her simultaneous innocence and sophistication, she would be easy to ignore.

The biggest problem with The Creator is its noncommittal nature. The script itself doesn’t know how it feels about AI. At one point, Harun implores us that robots would never harm nor provoke humans. His monologue directly contradicts that of Colonel Howell’s, who at one point speaks about her son being tortured by the very same breed of robots. Never does Edwards and Chris Weitz’s screenplay concretize the truth. Its decisively wishy-washy nature makes The Creator difficult to connect with on a level that isn’t surface, in large part due to its dashing visuals.

No matter how much Hans Zimmer’s score wants to convince us nor how determined Edwards and Weitz are in selling us, The Creator remains hollow and unmoving. Its uses of title-cards to punctuate different chapters and characters do not make up for its lack of emotion in its most climactic scenes, nor do its attractive visuals disguise its inability to resonate on an emotional level. Gareth Edwards knows how to capture science-fiction in a way that’s both intense and beautiful. His Star Wars installment, Rogue One, let me cold and unmoved, as did The Creator. Like AI, whether it be ChatGPT or another service, his latest understands the parameters but lacks the heart.

NOTE: The Creator is now playing exclusively in theaters.

Starring: John David Washington, Madeleine Yuna Voyles, Gemma Chan, Ken Watanabe, Sturgill Simpson, and Allison Janney. Directed by: Gareth Edwards.

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About Steve Pulaski

Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!

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