Directed by Gareth Evans
Review by Iva Apostolova
By the time this movie review comes out, the highly anticipated sci-fi drama, first released in October this year, may no longer be showing on the big screen. Which is a shame, really, as the special effects are spectacular. The Creator is directed by the British Gareth Evans, who is the new-generation cross between Steven Spielberg and George Lucas and whose credentials include the blockbusters Godzilla and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Just like Lucas before him, Evans got his christening in the special visual effects department, which is one of the many good things about the movie – the special effects are neither overdone (The Lord of the Rings anyone?) nor underdone, but just right. If I had to describe the movie in one word, I would call it “epic” – filmed on location in Bangkok, Thailand, the wide shots of the natural vistas are as breathtaking as the sci-fi, CGI-ed recreations of Buddhist temples.
The movie stars the charismatic John David Washington, who first caught my eye in another sci-fi masterpiece, Christopher Nolan’s Tenet (an absolute must-see!), and the show-stopper Madeleine Yuna Voyles, who portrays the robot Alphie (“simulants” as they are called in the movie). Madeleine was only six and a half when the shooting started. The movie wouldn’t be what it is without the Hollywood veteran Allison Jenney as the embattled army commander out on a personal vendetta against the simulants and the beautiful Gemma Chan as Joshua’s (Washington’s character) love interest and the mother of all simulants.
In The Creator, Bertolucci’s Little Buddha meets Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence meets Dennie Villeneuve’s Blade Runner: 2049 meets Isaac Asimov’s classic I, Robot. But unlike Spielberg’s drawn out and muddled (with Pinocchio metaphors) A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Evan’s movie masterfully balances the complexity of the characters’ relationships with the explicitness of the message carried out by little Alphie, whose response to the question whether she wants anything from the factory’s fridge is simple and direct: “For robots to be free.” I found that even the metaphysical glitches in the depiction of robots were not as glaring as they have been in other sci-fi movies: at some point, we see the simulants eating and drinking, just like humans, when it is plain obvious that would be “anatomically” impossible as they don’t actually have necks.
It’s not the originality of the plot per se that makes The Creator exciting, though. It is rather the delivery of the moral of the story. Where other sci-fi movies rely on subtle and slow build-up (Ex Machina), twisted timelines (Tenet), surprise denouement or ambiguous plot twists (the most recent sci-fi drama Foe starring the two Irish powerhouses Saoirse Ronan and Paul Mescal is a great example of that), in other words, anything to make the viewers draw their own conclusions, The Creator comes out of the gate brandishing its firm belief that robots are better than humans, period. It’s a bold statement which, anticipated by literary visionaries like Isaac Asimov and Ian McEwan, has been explored as a serious hypothesis in the academic literature for some time now: that AI may very well evolve into super-humans not in virtue of their enhanced physical strength or computational intelligence, but on the grounds of their steadfast moral compass, with which comes a greater ability for compassion, care and respect for life (I have to admit, the robot Buddhist monks are eerily convincing). All things that we humans preach but somehow consistently fail to act on. This hypothesis is, of course, based on the assumption that free will is not something inscrutable, a gift from an unknown god or innate to human nature alone, but simply a practice based on a series of choices and the ability to do good.
But I wouldn’t call The Creator a dystopian depiction of the grim future of humankind. On the contrary, it has a surprising, elegant hopefulness to it. Joshua, a human soldier under cover, is “converted” by little Alphie, the first of its kind child-simulant who not only looks like a Buddhist apprentice but also has the deeply spiritual demeanor of one. Through Joshua and Alphie, we learn that despite the burdens of doubt and fear that we carry around, our greatest asset is our ability to form lasting bonds with everything and everyone around us.
Running time: 2 h 13 mins
Available in select theatres and for streaming on AppleTV+ and Prime Video.
Iva Apostolova is associate professor and vice-rector, research and academic, at Saint Paul University and a regular Glebe Report contributor on films and TV.