IN CNEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 133 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera
Iin 2055, an Artificial Intelligence created by the US government detonates a nuclear warhead over Los Angeles, so the US declares war on AI, creating NOMAD [North American Orbital Mobile Aerospace Defense], an advanced high-altitude aerospace platform capable of launching destructive attacks from orbit, and trying to hunt down Nirmata, the architect behind AI advancements in New Asia which continues to embrace AI. A decade later in New Asia, US sergeant Joshua Taylor is married to Maya, but is also an undercover operative using her to find Nirmata. When US forces attack their home, a pregnant Maya runs away but is killed in a subsequent NOMAD strike. Five years later, Taylor is recruited to locate and destroy a new weapon engineered by Nirmata, “Alpha O,” believed to be capable of destroying the NOMAD platform In New Asia, Taylor manages to enter the compound believed to hold the weapon but discovers only a robotic “simulant” in the form of a young child who has the ability to remotely control technology….
Or, as Stanley Kubrick may have said, How I learned To Stop Worrying And Love AI. Honestly, that may as well have been part of this film’s title. Ask people on the street what is their biggest worry in terms of things that are happening in the world, and I’m sure that Artificial Intelligence would be often mentioned. Yet here is a motion picture which forces down our throat [which seems to be the only way messaging can be done these days, subtlety virtually being a thing of the past] the jdea that AI should be accepted, largely through continual sequences of peaceful, even spiritual, non-white robots being pursued and attacked by white soldiers. The peculiar kind of semi-racism that’s becoming quite common in films today is something that I probably only need to mention in passing, because there’s so much else that’s both odd and warrying here. Of course if writer / director Gareth Edwards thinks AI is wonderful and wants to celebrate it then he should be able to, but for goodness sake, considering that it’s such an important issue, he should at least have done it with some kind of nuance. But no, instead of engaging with his concept, all he does is present his AIs as stand-ins for any persecuted minority even if there doesn’t seem to be any compelling reason to root for the robots other than the fact that the kid is cute and the other AIs are poor Asian villagers which brings up obvious thoughts of Vietnam, while the plot largely hinges on AIs having being framed for a terrible disaster which was actually the work of humans, [even though AI has already screwed up a few times and caused bad things to happen] and AI ends up providing a happy ending to one of the main characters. Quite frankly, this absurdly simplistic look at the subject is borderline irresponsible, in fact plain wrong considering what the recent strike in Hollywood was partly about, even if Edwards and Chris Weitz obviously wrote their screenplay some time before that.
However, said screenplay is so shoddily put together that it often feels like they did churn it out over a few weeks. Action scenes, which are mostly very similar, lifeless and idiotic [boy did he cock up this movie], can’t compensate for a screenplay which in addition to its patronising and propagandist nature, not to mention its borrowing and melding of elements of Ex Machina, Chappie, Elysium, I-Robot, The Golden Child, Avatar, Blade Runner and probably some others which haven’t come to mind yet with little originality to compensate, just doesn’t seem to have been thought through. Things happen and people do things just to move the plot forward, while we have lots of absurdities. The AI headquarters is on Mt. Everest, the tallest mountain in the world, yet the humans with all their flying technology can’t find it. And why would there be an elderly AI there in the form of a monk? The relationship between Taylor and Maya only becomes affecting towards the end, and is held back by the rather lacklustre acting of John David Washington in the part of Taylor, while the Maya character isn’t even that important if you actually think about it; she’s really little more than a device to cause some stuff to take place and could almost have been removed from the screenplay. It’s quite astonishing how poorly put together the tale is, how badly it handles its premise, and how little sense so much of it makes. It’s often ugly to look at too, though at least the budget, which was considerably below your average Marvel episode, is all up there on the screen, while the effects certainly benefit from being less digitally created than has become the norm.
A few shots of real footage begin a montage which tells us how AI became more and more powerful, eventually causing this explosion which leads to the US pledging to eradicate AI from the earth. This is quite a neat introduction and seems to give the impression that the film could be really good. Taylor and Maya are first seen in bed with Maya pregnant, and actually in just a minute or so we do get a strong sense of two people who are really in love. While they’re separate for the rest of the film, every now and again we get almost impressionistic flashbacks of the two, at times seemingly put in at random, but they serve well in reminding us of Taylor’s great love for her and providing a personal and emotional element to the proceedings which otherwise sometimes struggled to get my full attention, so uninvolving did I find it. Of course it’s possible to yawn considerably at yet another film which has a dead other half as motivation for the lead character; when Taylor is recruited to find this suoer-weapon, he’s shown a video of Maya being alive, and is told that he might find and reunite with her if he joins the team. But you’d better get used tio this kind of thing, because this film is cliche after cliche, and with no seeming attempt to make them seen fresh. At least viewer expectations are played with a bit after Taylor, looking for Alpha Q in New Asia, gets separated from the rest of his team and comes across this robot girl whom he dubs Alphie. We expect lots of scenes of the two arguing, bonding etc, but actually get very little screen time devoted to this kind of thing. Instead we get constant flight from attacks which soon becomes monotonous.
Taylor disobeys Howell’s orders to kill Alphie, and, with her, heads to the provincial capital to find Drew, Taylor’s former commanding officer. Examining Alphie, Drew tells Taylor she’s capable of becoming the most powerful weapon on the planet as her abilities to control technology will grow exponentially. but then New Asian police attack Drew’s apartment. Just before Drew perishes, he tells Taylor something that won’t surprise anybody who’s been paying attention, and then, soon after that, an AI soldier known as Harun tells us something else which makes this human / AI conflict so much less interesting than it could and should have been. These saintly AIs just want to live in peace, but those dastardly bigoted Americans don’t want to allow that to happen, cue for lots of action which is often both dull and absurd. Cars are impervious to damage. Explosions at point blank range just make people fall over. Laser beams come from above over and over again. but never seem to hit anything or anyone. For some reason New Asia’s defense budget only stretches to police cars and robots who seem to be absolutely useless and just exist to get blown up. I would have thought that all the AIs there would have made New Asia super powerful, which brings me to another strange thing; these AIs don’t seem to be anymore intelligent than humans. Then there’s the matter of Aphie’s powers, which seem to work only when the script wants them to. The Alphie character is completely wasted and Madeleine Yuna Voles in the part seems to have been mostly asked just to look as cute a robot moppet as possible, though she does have a strong screen presence and I hope we see more of her in the future.
Edwards seems to have asked cinematographers Craig Fraser and Oren Soffle to make a lot of shots look as unappealing as possible. We see a lots of hideous grey technology scarring the beauty of nature, which seems to be as far as Edwards is willing to go in questioning the way things are actually going right now, though it’s all in the visuals; the script never seems to attempt any depth or balance, and throws away all of its potentially fascinating ideas. But then this is a film where walking computers are alerted by a church bell, and where it’s established that our hero can’t apeak the native language of New Asia yet when his car breaks down he’s asked in perfect English if he needs help, after which his rescuer suddenly progresses, for no real reason, to someone who takes him through a police road-block, risking the lives of his five children in the process. At least what we see is generally convincing; the greater use of real backgrounds and model work really works in the film’s favour and leaves us wondering why Marvel feel they have to render practically every darn thing with CGI, though the design generally lacks imagination; one city scape looks like Blade Runner all over again. Hans Zimmer contributes the usual autopilot music score he does these days, and, when the string section tries valiantly to soar but is held back, never has Zimmer’s bizarre habit of drowning out a large orchestra with a synthesiser seemed more reductive and wasteful.
The Creator is a hugely disappointing and disheartening movie experience, a massive waste which feels as if Edwards, who let’s face ir, made the only worthwhile recent Star Wars film, along with Weitz deliberately set out to show how Hollywood can ruin something which has great potential through dumbing down and carelessness. And its attitude that it shows towards its subject is embarrassingly simplistic, rather ignorant and highly questionable. In not so many years time, The Creator could be made by AIs, but the irony is that they’d probably do a better job.