There have been countless science-fiction movies about what makes someone human. There is something about putting people side-by-side with robots to explore the concept of humanity that fascinates storytellers and audiences alike. The latest attempt at this is The Creator, an ambitious (in terms of production), world-building, sci-fi/action/drama about love, life and compassion. It is an incredible-looking movie, confident in its message, with a strong central performance. It is entertaining and reasonably exciting because the action is a product of the characters, instead of the other way around.
The plot, sadly, is very familiar. As creative as this is in parts, the story is a fairly basic “disillusioned soldier finds his purpose in a child” arc, mixed with “humans vs robots, but who are the real heartless monsters?” The result is still worth seeing, especially on the big screen. The robots and spaceships are cool, as are shots of characters running through the jungle. It takes its emotions seriously, adding stakes it can’t quite live up to. I liked it, yet it feels like it could’ve been a lot more.
A nuclear device controlled by an AI detonates in LA, killing millions and setting off a war between humans and machines. More than a decade later, after suffering a tragedy fighting for the cause, Sergeant Josh Taylor is forced back into action to secure a weapon built by the enemy to end the war for good. When he discovers that this “weapon” is in the form of a robot child, Josh must figure out what he’s really fighting for.
There is so much here we have seen before. The screenplay cribs from Terminator most of all, though there are also bits of Bladerunner, Star Wars, Avatar and even Apocalypse Now (due to its war setting that is intentionally reminiscent of Vietnam). The ideas here, mainly stemming from Josh’s motivations and the ultimate plans of the title character (called Nirmata, this mysterious entity is essentially the robots’ god) are interesting. It is not just “what makes someone human,” it is also “is it okay to take a life if that life was man-made” and the irony of destroying/denying the right to exist to something that we built. Add in a man who has given up on caring about survival and a child born into a world that is terrified of her and you have fertile ground for metaphors about war, hatred and love.
The screenplay by Chris Weitz and Gareth Edwards (who directed) doesn’t do much with these rich concepts. It plants the seeds, then goes in a very predictable/derivative direction. It is disappointing by the end because, though it is watchable on the level it is working on, there was a huge chance to go deeper and actually give thought to the message. Despite its impressive visual surface, underneath it is surprisingly unoriginal.
But man, what an impressive visual surface! Edwards has created a fleshed-out world, through images, as opposed to plot. All the humans we see are either soldiers or poor locals living in peace with the robots. The robots, on the other hand, are soldiers, lovers, friends, etc. We see advanced laboratories, military spaceships, rough settlements, gun boats. There is a juxtaposition here of amazing technology right next to people (or machines) surviving on the bare necessities. It is a nicely realized world in its imagery, with the protagonists (John David Washington giving everything he can to bring this guy alive and Madeleine Yuna Voyles as an adorable plot device) running through it to get from one development to the next.
The Creator (124 minutes minus the end credits) is half a movie I really liked and half a movie I couldn’t quite get into. On a visual level, it is engaging. On a story level, it is unfortunately routine, wasting some tremendously promising themes. The latter doesn’t drag the former down enough to make this bad, but the former doesn’t carry it to great. Gareth Edwards created an opportunity he wasn’t able to capitalize on. While the potential is there for something intriguing and subversive, he stayed too conventional to make this truly memorable.
3¼ out of 5
John David Washington as Joshua
Madeleine Yuna Voyles as Alphie
Allison Janney as Colonel Howell
Ken Watanabe as Harun
Gemma Chan as Maya
Directed by Gareth Edwards
Screenplay by Gareth Edwards and Chris Weitz