Direction: Gareth Edwards
Screenplay: Gareth Edwards, Chris Weitz
Cast: John David Washington, Gemma Chan, Ken Watanabe, Sturgill Simpson,
Allison Janney, Ralph Ineson, Veronica Ngo, Madeleine Yuna Voyles
Length: 133 minutes
Listen to this article below (narrated by Adam Zawadzki).
Seven years after the release of his third film ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’, ‘The Creator’
is also set against a backdrop of worlds at war with artificial intelligence proving to be a
pivotal lightning rod with thunderous consequences for two ideologies that are
diametrically opposed. On the one hand, the West has vowed to annihilate all synthetic
lifeforms after the AI they created supposedly detonated a nuclear warhead over Los
Angeles, incinerating a million people instantaneously.
On the other, the East continues to assimilate the artificially intelligent into its own society
ever further. While the Unites States has constructed Nomad, a military mothership capable
of eradicating entire civilisations from space, New Asia has developed Alpha O, a weapon of
unconfirmed identity believed to be capable of ending the war, but not in their favour:
Nomad v Alpha O.
Joshua (John David Washington), physically and mentally wounded, acquiesces to the
historicising overtures of US Colonel Howell (Allison Janney) and gravelly voice of General
Andrews (Ralph Ineson). She appears to prove that his missing wife Maya (Gemma Chan) is
still alive in New Asia and will allow him to bring her home should he agree to return to
enemy territory to extirpate Alpha O. And the creator, known as Nirmata. But, of course, that’s only the plan.
For some soldiers it’ll be their first time, but not for Joshua, who fell in love with Maya
during his first posting there. His cover was blown amidst a pre-emptive operation by his
own side, during which his wife, then pregnant, discovered his identity as a double agent,
sent there specifically to locate their nemesis’ new weapon of mass destruction. While
trying to escape the Americans (her husband included), Maya and her unborn child were
vapourised by Nomad, which rained hellfire from on high, right in front of Joshua; yet more
native lives lost to the collateral damage of wartime, but more on that later.
Although an American production, this painting has clearly been layered with a revisionist
paintbrush to reconfigure that classic lineage of Hollywood filmography of equal parts
patriotic celebration in its armed forces and military propaganda in its American
exceptionalism. Nomad is conspicuous and individualistic, symbolic of US aerial dominance
via unconquerable surveillance infrastructure whose involvement in mortal combat often feels more coldly artificial than the warm intelligence they’re trying to obliterate. In the
West, for example, we tend to view those in the East as a robot population.
Nirmata is elusive and unknowable, emblematic of ‘the yellow peril’ that cast Asian faces as
a threat to the American identity, liberty and freedom. A trope recycled by the Hollywood
machine for so long, ‘the other’ posed a constant danger to the (supposedly) stable social
fabric of home, its shapeshifting presence possessing the psychological power to destabilise.
Of course, by reprocessing this trope, a new narrative is created here whose intention is
distinctive and more thematically complex. See the current geopolitical tensions between
the US and China which makes ‘The Creator’ appear remarkably prescient.
Exposition of this nature is delivered via an, ironically, analogical flourish: the Tomorrow
Today Century Newsreel, a 1950s/60s/70s style domestic television commercial, introduces
us to a parallel universe where artificial intelligence has been part of the Western world for
generations. A common filmic device, you’ll also find this in ‘WALL-E’ and ‘Kong: Skull
Island’, two films that deal with artificial life, both good and otherwise, and, by
happenstance, are, individually, predominantly set in space and Asian landscapes,
respectively. However, the apparent attack by sentient technology catalyses a new world, of
war on terror and fear of the other. Sound familiar?
Scenes of American soldiers invading and attacking New Asian farmers invokes the murky
image of human rights violations committed by Western troops in Vietnam. Shots of New
Asian civilians celebrating an American technological defeat on the battlefield inverts the
very same imagery, of a victory for the oppressors over the aggressors, used at the close of ‘Independence Day’ with striking self-confidence.
Who are the aggressors? Who are the oppressed? We follow Joshua and Alfie (Madeleine
Yuna Voyles) across ethnic fault lines blurring our vision and allegiance, accepted often
without challenge to our own cultural narrative. What matters most is the end of the war
and this very human conflict.
By shooting on location in around 80 destinations worldwide, ‘The Creator’ was created for
roughly $80million, an impressive achievement given the grandiose scale of the production.
By being visual effects laden, not driven, what could easily have turned out to be yet
another forgettable studio blockbuster shot entirely virtually, has been transformed into a
dystopian war drama with impeccable stylistic flair. Luscious cinematography of the tropical
rainforests, its golden dusks and sweltering nights, not only hoist the quality of this piece
into the heavens but reinforce that commentary of the Vietnam War. See ‘Platoon’,
‘Apocalypse Now’, ‘The Deer Hunter’ and ‘The Thin Red Line’.
Washington and Janney have been gifted brilliant character arcs with which to play off one
another as each transfer from the role of the antagonist and protagonist from opposite
directions, just one advantage of writing with emotional diversity which is always
appreciated within the action thriller genre. As such, both actors have been emboldened to
deliver complicated performances. And they’re marvellous.
While Washington’s ex-special forces agent harbouring a fugitive recalls other father figures
such as Tom Hanks in ‘Road to Perdition’ and Clive Owen in ‘Children of Men’, Janney’s
Colonel on a mission reminds of me of other older strong women of action like Judi Dench in ‘Skyfall’ and Helen Mirren in ‘The Debt’. A switching of gender stereotypes and centring of
marginalised faces, especially on this scope, is a much-respected move. In fact, almost every
artistic decision here has been very well executed, not least allowing AI to struggle with its
own questions of morality, humanity and mortality when we (for now, at least) believe it to
possess none of the above. In these moments of poignant ambiguity, Voyles shines. Seek
out ‘Blade Runner’ and its sequel ‘2049’.
Hans Zimmer’s operatic score gathers angelic voices and war horns alike, keeping up with a
thunderous sound design of both vast explosive force and surprising emotive restraint. For
‘The Creator’ is also noteworthy for its unexpectedly magnetic core, exemplified, stirringly,
by the moving performances of its cast, all of whom are aided, undoubtedly, by the
salubrious music and production design. Yes, the worldbuilding is there but it’s subtly done;
the absence of character voiceovers allows the film to unfurl itself at its own pace, which,
also, just happens to be grippingly quick.
Of the four acts, the third, the friend, has been highlighted as the weakest by my fellow
critics. Sitting outside of the father, the child and the mother, the nuclear family (trope), it’s
easily the most difficult to justify, but I argue, for this reason, its inclusion is more
admirable. Parents need to lead lives outside of their child(ren) and here is the chapter of
his life that allows the father to seek help in finding the mother. It’s a tricky story to place in
any timeline like this one, but it provides ‘The Creator’ with space to develop its journey.
A scripture of dark humour keeps proceedings entertainingly buoyant throughout which
contributes, enormously, to an incendiary climax with a devastating choice. Visually
mesmeric and audibly cerebral, by the Industrial Light and Magic the revolution will be
televised. At last. An original science fiction blockbuster that isn’t a sequel or prequel and
doesn’t rely on or an already established intellectual property for its special effects. It’s
meant to stand alone, and it does.
Heaven, it transpires, is a place on Earth. In a word: flawless.
“Underneath it all, we’re the same.”
‘The Creator’ is in cinemas now: