A former soldier is recruited to go behind enemy lines to prevent an A.I. apocalypse in The Creator, which opens in Prague cinemas and worldwide this weekend. This action-packed and unusually poignant epic blends themes from Steven Spielberg‘s A.I. and Alfonso Cuarón‘s Children of Men, and couldn’t be more timely; if you can forgive some storytelling artifice, The Creator is one of the best sci-fi films of the 21st century.
In the world of The Creator, neatly recapped with some pseudo-newsreel footage during the film’s opening minutes, humanoid robots powered by artificial intelligence have become an indispensable part of everyday life… until they denote a nuclear weapon in Los Angeles, killing a million people and leaving the entire city a radioactive ground zero.
But while America banned A.I. – specifically the humanoid robots, the advanced weaponry seems fine – in the aftermath of the L.A. bombing, New Asia has continued to embrace the artificial technology. By 2062, America is at war not with Asia, but with the deadly technology the continent harbors; this leads to a massive satellite called Nomad that scans the landscape for A.I. bases and bombs them indiscriminately.
Their target-to-end-all-targets is Nirmata, the titular creator of artificial intelligence that the robots worship as a demigod, and who is purportedly creating a weapon-to-end-all-weapons. Undercover agent Joshua (John David Washington, in his second sci-fi knockout following Christopher Nolan‘s Tenet), has gone behind enemy lines to form a relationship with Nirmata’s daughter Maya (Gemma Chan), who is carrying his child, but a premature attack results in her death.
But that’s all backstory: in The Creator‘s narrative proper, Joshua is re-recruited to go behind enemy lines once more by General Andrews (Ralph Ineson), where he will navigate a team led by Colonel Howell (Allison Janney, in a standout performance) to the secret base that houses Nirmata. To ensure his cooperation, Andrews reveals that Maya is still alive.
Of course, the mission goes wrong once again, but Joshua discovers something else: the “weapon” that has been developed is an advanced childlike A.I. being he names Alphie (Madeleine Yuna Voyles), and who he can’t bring himself to kill. Instead, he takes her on the lam in an effort to locate Maya, with New Asia police, A.I. resistance fighters, and the American military all on his tail.
The Creator is many things: it’s an awe-inspiring piece of sci-fi that transports us to a future world that seems all too real, a breathtaking war movie full of edge-of-your action sequences, and a poignant examination of what artificial intelligence really is, and how it parallels humanity. Most importantly: it’s an impeccably put-together piece of original sci-fi that puts 95 percent of big-budget blockbusters to shame.
That’s important, because it also features a story that relies on a lot of coincidence and contrivance (particularly in its final act), and if you pick apart the hows and whys of the events of the movie you’ll lose the movie in a pit from which it cannot redeem itself. But if you can trust the filmmakers and presume that there are sufficient explanations for what is transpiring that aren’t always explicitly detailed on screen… well, The Creator is a total knockout.
Chief among those filmmakers is director Gareth Edwards (who co-wrote the screenplay with Chris Weitz), who made the innovative low-budget kaiju movie Monsters, successfully rebooted Godzilla, and delivered the best Disney Star Wars film with Rogue One. The Creator is his finest film to date.
Like in Rogue One, Edwards spends a lot of time detailing the technicalities of the battlefield, and the personalities of their participants. Alongside Janney’s memorable character and Marc Menchaca as her right-hand-man, Ken Watanabe (as an A.I. resistance leader) and Amar Chadha-Patel (as multiple police robots) are particularly strong presences that help drive a relatively straightforward narrative. These characters almost exclusively feature in scenes of war action, but the action isn’t mindless: it’s all carefully choreographed and a natural extension of the combatants behind it.
But The Creator‘s greatest strength is in its thematic depth; this is the rare film that views technology with apprehension but also pathos and also poignancy. It’s a beautiful film that goes as far as to reimagine religion through the lens of artificial intelligence, and call our own relationship with the ethereal into question.
“It’s not alive, it’s programming,” Joshua tells a new recruit who freaks out when a robot pops back to life at ground zero. Later on, he finds himself in a similar situation in front of the Alphie, after he puts a hole through another robot. “It’s not dead, just off,” he tells her.
The Creator may not tick all your boxes, and some may even find the film’s central message insensitive or offensive or perhaps even anti-human. But it has a message, and it will make you think. There are so few Hollywood blockbusters of this nuanced quality that The Creator is nothing short of a small miracle itself, and deserves any accolades that may be coming its way.