Science fiction is often used as an allegorical vessel within which to explore real-life current events, and such is the case with “The Creator” (20th Century). Although primarily set in the year 2070, this thinking person’s war drama takes for its main topic the very timely subject of artificial intelligence.
While present-day concerns centre on AI’s potential to turn on its designers and displace human control of the world, within director and co-writer Gareth Edwards’ film, machines would seem to have more to worry about than those they were manufactured to serve. In fact, a global conflict is raging over an American-led effort to eliminate all automatons.
This crusade comes in the wake of a disaster that the U.S. blames on A.I. As a result of it, the West has banned the technology but the fictitious enemy nation of New Asia has not.
Formerly caught up in the struggle, as the opening sequence shows us, retired special forces agent Sgt. Joshua Taylor (John David Washington) was traumatised by it and has left it behind.
So at least he thinks until he’s visited by a duo of high-ranking officers, Gen. Andrews (Ralph Ineson) and Col. Howell (Allison Janney), intent on enticing him back onto active duty.
As a lure, they show the widower footage that seems to establish that his wife, Maya (Gemma Chan), whom he has long believed to be dead and for whom he still grieves, is, in fact, alive and living in New Asia. With the prospect of reuniting with Maya before him, Joshua agrees to get back in the fight.
He’s assigned to destroy the pro-AI side’s most potent weapon, which is in the last stages of development. Eventually, however, Joshua’s intensifying bond with Alphie (Madeleine Yuna Voyles), a childlike robot he encounters during his mission, has him questioning his nation’s ultimate goal of destroying not only her but every being like her.
Joshua’s saga is visually expansive but thematically shaky. As penned with Chris Weitz, the script raises issues that will be more troubling to viewers with a secular outlook than to Christian believers. Are humans the gods of A.I.? Can A.I. advance to the point where the machines endowed with it must be treated with the dignity traditionally accorded to people?
Since no mechanical object, however brainy, can be said to have a human soul or the immortal destiny that comes with it, these questions are easily answered from a biblical perspective. As the screenplay admits, cuddly Alphie, for all her endearing ways, is not headed to heaven if she’s switched off by her enemies.
Although these topics are more dabbled with than deeply delved into, grown-ups-for whom alone the picture’s vulgarity-laden dialogue is acceptable-will nonetheless likely appreciate Washington’s hard-driving performance. Moviegoers of all persuasions, moreover, can probably agree with Edwards’ peaceable agenda.
With “Monsters” (2010), “Godzilla” (2014) and “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” (2016) on his CV, director and co-writer Gareth Edwards is a seasoned sci-fi filmmaker. Edwards recently spoke to bfi.org.uk about the ‘timely’ rise of AI, and how it has given “The Creator” a ‘strange power.’
“There’s quite a classic story there in terms of oppressing a race. It was quite straightforward, and it wasn’t meant to be anything other than an allegory or metaphor. But then suddenly, cut to four years later and 2023, and AI is a thing,” he said.
“I think it’s given the film a bit more power, because we spent the whole of pre-production trying to do studio notes of why would you ban AI? AI would be an amazing thing. Why would it get banned? I was trying to invent all these reasons why. Now suddenly, the default setting of everyone coming to the movie is like, “AI is bad and it is going to destroy us.” There’s this strange power that it has given to the film that’s really good, in terms of the journey of the story.”
Picture: John David Washington stars in a scene from the movie “The Creator.” OSV News photo/Oren Soffer, 20th Century Studios