The Plot: The year is 2050. Following a nuclear incident in Los Angeles, the west is still picking up the pieces and has banned artificial intelligence. The American Government is now on a warpath to ending all A.I., which it blames for the devastation. In New Asia though, they have a different attitude. They live in peaceful co-existence with A.I. called simulants who have integrated into their society at all levels. US operative Joshua (John David Washington) has contacts in New Asia and is tasked with tracking down and terminating a new A.I. that has the potential to become more powerful than anything else. It also happens to come in the form of a child, Alphie (Madeleine Yuna Voyles)…
The Verdict: A good story involving speculative science fiction is as much about today as it is about the tomorrow of decades from now. This is a thought that writer/director Gareth Edwards no doubt subscribes to when considering how to approach the role of artificial intelligence’s growing presence in society. His new film The Creator opens with a montage of seemingly benign A.I. becoming society’s workhorse. Robot butlers? Sure, why not. That soon gives way to what appears to be an inevitable war between man and machine. We’ve been here before of course – but not quite like this. The Terminator is perhaps the most striking example of the dangers of A.I. However, after viewing The Creator one has to wonder if Edwards might just be sympathetic to it and turn the glare on man’s own folly instead.
While there are a number influences that Edwards has credited in his thought-provoking script with Chris Weitz – Blade Runner, Apocalypse Now and Rain Man – this exhilarating new film also comes across as an original piece cut from its own Asian-inspired cloth. The script is emotionally engaging from early on, as our assassin/hero Joshua is sent on a double-barrelled quest to not only find the new A.I. but also its creator – rumoured to also be the A.I.’s god. Meanwhile, the war is at a tipping point and could go either way as both sides reach for a final solution. Having directed Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Edwards knows that all the visual effects in the world won’t matter a boot command if the interweaving human and A.I. story is not rooted in something relatable and catchy. He locks on to an engaging story of a broken man seeking answers of his own, while he learns more about his supposed enemy in the process. In that uncertain relationship between man and child machine there is a safe place to have a meeting of minds.
There is an element of hard science fiction at work here, the kind that 1960s and 1970s cinema thrived on through the creative control granted by studios to filmmakers. Edwards seems to have tapped into that same boundary-pushing vibe of provoking the mind while dressing it up in the trappings of a modern blockbuster with top-notch visual effects. An early sequence has street advertising encouraging citizens to sell their likeness for technological purposes – something which is very on-the-nose for the actors currently on strike. Later on, with the overconfident might of the American military steamrolling over Asian landscapes, one has to think of the soldiers far from home once again lost in another Lost War. Edwards doesn’t overplay this side commentary though. There is a lot of hidden meaning in the film, but at its CPU core it’s a popcorn blockbuster with the kind of propulsive action sequences on sea, land, air and space that might give James Cameron a run for his money (billions and counting).
Where The Creator scores so well is in its world-building and depiction of a split society (east/west, human/A.I.) that is distant yet not so distant that it couldn’t happen. It’s confident, ready-made filmmaking which grounds it in a recognisable future and then builds upon it with layered meaning. The pacing is urgent but not overly rushed. Edwards’ direction is steady and consistent throughout in what is his most ambitious film to date. Nobody drops the ball in the acting department, including young newcomer Madeleine Yuna Voyles who has just the right amount of cuteness and presence to portray both A.I. and human simultaneously. Hans Zimmer delivers another throbbing and suitably epic science fiction score, while we await Dune: Part Two. While Hollywood science fiction films often blow it in the third act and lose themselves in a swirling mass of pixels, The Creator is smart enough to deliver the narrative and emotional pay-off required while being stirring stuff right up to the closing shot. If this is Edwards’ idea of rage against the machine, then it’s a carefully-calibrated riot to watch.
Rating: 4 / 5
Review by Gareth O’Connor
The Creator (USA / 12A / 133 mins)
In short: Rage against the machine
Directed by Gareth Edwards.
Starring John David Washington, Madeleine Yuna Voyles, Gemma Chan, Allison Janney, Ken Watanabe, Ralph Ineson.