Del and Mladen review ‘The Creator’

Image courtesy of 20th Century Studios.

“The Creator” stars John David Washington as Joshua, Madeleine Yuna Voyles as Alphie, Gemma Chan as Maya, Allison Janney as Colonel Howell, and Ken Watanabe as Harun. It is directed by Gareth Edwards, has a run time of 2 hours and 13 minutes, and is rated PG-13. See it in theatrical release.

Del’ take

“The Creator” did not create a box office phenomenon. In fact, it landed with a thud, earning only $30 million in its opening weekend compared to an $80 million production cost. The experts at Looper attribute its failure to the following:

The movie lacked well-known stars. John David Washington (“Tenet”) and Allison Janney (“I, Tonya”) are the two highest profile actors.

The SAG-AFTRA strike prevented the cast from promoting the film.

The film presents a sympathetic view of AI at a moment when AI technology is under fire for multiple affronts, from displacing human workers to plagiarisation and creating disinformation.

The marketing may have misled the public as to the movie’s true plot.

I would add a fifth: Meme-loving, McDonald’s-eating, Trump-voting Americans are so risk-averse they’re not willing to take a chance on an unknown entertainment quantity.

That’s a shame because “The Creator” is a decent movie. Special effects are top notch, acting is terrific, and the movie’s sweep is epic.

The plot is complicated, so bear with me: An AI entity is blamed for detonating a nuclear weapon over Los Angeles, killing millions of people and prompting the United States to undertake a pogrom to erase the algorithmic scourge from the face of the earth. A giant and impregnable space station called NOMAD orbits above a faraway land called New Asia, a haven for AI sympathizers, and blasts suspected hideouts with nuclear missiles. John David Washington’s character, a special forces dude named Joshua, infiltrates New Asia and marries the daughter of the Nirmata, or Creator, who is working to make AI even more powerful. Joshua’s mission is to identify the location of the Nirmata so that NOMAD can end the menace of AI once and for all. But Joshua’s new wife, Maya (played by Gemma Chan), is the actual Nirmata and has created a superweapon, an AI child based on her unborn baby. The child (“Alphie,” played by Madeleine Yuna Voyles), has amazing powers that could bring down NOMAD.

“The Creator” clearly has Biblical overtones and if anything, its Adam-and-Eve subtext may be too on-the-nose. It portrays AI-endowed robots as an oppressed minority who face persecution similar to that endured by Jews, African Americans and members of the LGBTQ community. The robots await the arrival of a savior who will deliver them from the persecution of Americans and the West – shades of Neo in “The Matrix.”

“The Creator’s” virtues are many. It’s a beautiful thing to look at. We saw it in IMAX and Dolby stereo, which showcased its visual and audio drama. John David Washington – who I did not know was Denzel Washington’s son! – Ken Watanabe and Allison Janney are very good in their roles. Madeleine Yuna Voyles as Alfie, the AI weapon, was excellent – this was her debut movie.

I agree with criticism the movie seems to use material from other films. At times I felt I was watching “Blade Runner,” “Platoon” or, as I said above, “The Matrix.” According to the film’s Wikipedia entry, “Edwards cited (sic) Apocalypse Now (1979), Baraka (1992), Blade Runner (1982), Akira (1988), Rain Man (1988), The Hit (1984), E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) and Paper Moon (1973) as this film’s sources of inspiration.”

“The Creator” has received generally favorable reviews from critics, who laud its spectacular special effects and grand sweep. But they simultaneously downscore it for lacking depth and heart. Said Christy Lemire on

“Rich in atmosphere but short on substance, director and co-writer Gareth Edwards’ film has the look and tone of a serious, original work of art, but it ends up feeling empty as it recycles images and ideas from many influential predecessors.”

I’m not a Gareth Edwards fan and was unimpressed with some of his previous efforts, like “Godzilla” and “Monsters,” which I hated. But I feel I should defend “The Creator.” It’s an enjoyable science-fiction movie that at least tries to say something more than “superhero” or “Trust the Force.”

In other words, it’s not a fast-food meme, and there’s not one awful comb-over in its 133 minutes.

I give “The Creator” a B+ grade.

Mladen’s take

Strangely enough, I agree with much of Del’s “The Creator” review. The world building in this film is epic. The AI-driven simulants were fully merged with human society in New Asia. Megacities were bleak, countryside green. Cyborg and man shared everything (and it looked like it) and that produced the film’s most interesting idea, that AIs had found religion. The AIs prayed, just like humans. The AIs buried their dead or cremated them on pyres, just like humans. The AIs married each other and humans. The AIs needed a supernatural savior, just like humans.

My reaction to the notion of godliness-infused robots, which, frankly, had never occurred to me as I thought about AI? Something like this, “Holy fuck, how can beings that are supposed to be more intelligent than the critters that created them also believe there’s a ghost in the sky or a kinsman or Buddha watching over them?” My thought was all the more resonant because the only thing above New Asia with the power of Almighty was the $1 trillion space battlewagon NOMAD. Good god, God, NOMAD launched tac-nukes from an effing carousel straight down at its target, killing everything. Women, men, children, gone. Nonhuman women, men, and children, gone. Boom. Again and again. Take this and this and this, New Asia. Where are your gods when you need them most? Bah ha ha.

As Del bellyached about how little interest “The Creator” has drawn from moviegoers, I came up with an idea for a new marketing campaign. The movie is titled “The Creator,” so sell it as a creation tale extolling Creationism. “Joshua” and “Maya” are Adam and Eve because their unborn Child serves as the blueprint for a savior’s soul. What is Alphie saving? Humanity from itself. Perfect. All the world’s major monotheistic religions are dedicated to saving humans from themselves. The film’s slogan will be, “Every species needs a god.” If that doesn’t draw Del’s “meme-loving, McDonald’s-eating, Trump-voting Americans,” who also tend to be religionists, to “The Creator,” I don’t know what will.

One more thought about AIs practicing religion now that the movie has spurred me to think about it. A few weeks ago, that is before I saw “The Creator,” I developed a new definition for AI. AI does not stand for Artificial Intelligence. It stands for Apocalypse Intelligence. The AIs in “The Creator” are religionists. The “Apocalypse” is in the Book of Revelation. Duh. Of course, AI will imbibe religion. AI is already an agent of the Apocalypse, amplifying Mankind’s worst impulses and hatreds even as I write this.

One problem that Del didn’t mention is that “The Creator” is too long. Its story of undying love, redemption, hope, and the happy ending could’ve unfolded in less than 2 hours with a bit of good editing. Also, I had to keep the bile down when, amid a very cool and noisy scene featuring behemoth armored vehicles, a squad of good guys with rifles failed to hit a bad guy at near-close range. Who did the smack down? Joshua with a pistol while lying on his back protecting a wounded Alphie. God Almighty that was irritating.

But, it took no time for the film to re-envelope me with its stunning visuals after an annoying scene. This A- wonder must be seen in an IMAX or Dolby theater. The spectacle and sound are striking. I will buy it on 4K disc. I will play it at scale at home on seven speakers and a powered subwoofer but it ain’t going to be the same as the bazillion IMAX speakers and hyper-wattage that I enjoyed on a Saturday afternoon.

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical writer. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and writer.