Whether it be “The Terminator," "I, Robot” or “Ex Machina,” cinema has often warned that we should fear or — at the very least — be wary of artificial intelligence. The message, though, has admittedly become overdone and honestly quite outdated. Someday, as AI grows to a level more intelligent than us, no longer will computers work for us but rather humans as slaves of the computer; in the end, we may look back and say that our very creation was the genesis of our own demise.
Pretty grim stuff, right? Well, while said outcome is still very much in the cards, I am here to offer a different perspective on AI — perhaps one less eerie and very much inspired by Gareth Edwards’ Sept. 29 release “The Creator.”
Set in 2070, “The Creator” establishes a world where artificially intelligent robots — termed sentients — are now fully functioning members of society. They take on normal jobs and are capable of love, worship and grief, perhaps to an extent we cannot comprehend. However, the U.S. government is now determined to eliminate all remaining AI after an artificial intelligence detonates a nuclear warhead over Los Angeles. Joshua (John David Washington), a hardened ex-special forces agent mourning the loss of his wife (Gemma Chan), has been recruited to hunt down the Creator, the evasive architect of advanced AI who has developed a weapon with the supposed power to end the war… and mankind itself. Along with his comrades, Joshua crosses enemy lines into New Asia, the last remaining region where humans and AI still peacefully coexist, only to find out that this world-destructing weapon takes the form of a little girl, Alphie (Madeline Yuna Voyles).
Ultimately, we are taken on a highly emotional, visually stunning, and thrilling adventure across New Asia that leaves the characters and even the audience questioning where our own allegiances lie.
Between “Godzilla” (2014), “Monsters” (2010), and "Rogue One" (2016), director Gareth Edwards has shown the ability to adapt stories into visually enthralling spectacles on the greatest scale. His worldbuilding capabilities and action sequences are on par with some of cinema's the most well-respected directors — think Michael Bay and James Cameron.
Yet none of his prior films reach the heights and vision of his newest project, for “The Creator” is inarguably Edwards’s greatest achievement. In “The Creator,” Edwards allows us to enter his own vision of our future, and we are taken to an Earth that is terrifying yet peaceful, dystopian yet beautiful. This is all the more impressive when considering that “The Creator” is a completely original work that I believe will one day be celebrated in the same regard as "Blade Runner," "The Matrix" or, dare I even say, "Star Wars."
The highlight of the film is its completely captivating cinematography, which is all the more impressive considering that it was achieved with a budget of only $80 million. Now, of course I recognize this as no small sum, but it is indeed just a meager sum in the science fiction world. For context, the 2023 film “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” cost $295 million to produce. Nonetheless, the product was an utterly gorgeous film set in some of the world's most incredible landscapes, such as the rice paddies, mountains and shorelines of Southeast Asia. All the while, Edwards is able to merge the natural with the artificial, incorporating incomprehensibly advanced technology within the most pure forms of beauty on the planet.
The story also takes place in a world that is still very akin to our own, in contrast to most sci-fi epics that are either set in a different world altogether or a version of Earth that is hardly recognizable. Edwards paints a clear picture of what our future may look like, where technology is built to accommodate our natural world rather than destroy it.
He and cinematographer Greig Fraser, known for his work in “The Batman” and “Dune”, also do an incredible job at producing emotionally affecting visuals; and with Hans Zimmer on the score, this super team creates one of the more powerful cinematic experiences in quite some time.
The film maintains a steady pace throughout. Now, do not mistake me; “The Creator” is a high-flying joyride, with incredibly intense and engaging action sequences and special effects. However, the plot is never rushed, allowing for characters to be properly developed and for its emotional impact to be fully realized.
This steady pace is made easier by the film's convincing dialogues and compelling acting. For the lead John David Washington, who has received criticism for his most recent performances in “Tenet '' and “Amsterdam,” this was considered a pivotal, career-making role. But after Washington fully emerged as Joshua, a tickly ambiguous man who is only partly what he initially seems, all “nepo baby” claims (as the son of Denzel Washington) should be put to rest.
The star of this film, though, is inarguably Madeline Yuna Voyles as Alphie. At just nine years old, Yuna Voyles delivers an incredibly raw performance as a girl unfairly burdened with serving as the messiah for all artificial intelligence. Yuna Voyles and Washington possess amazing onscreen chemistry, leaving us emotionally invested in the heartwarming and often heartwrenching relationship between the two. We also see Alphie cope with her identity as a sentient. Through her character, the audience is asked to reflect on their own interpretation of what it means to be human.
Similarly to “Avatar,” “The Creator” uses science fiction and massive world building to spread an anti-imperialist message. As we are given a glimpse into a life so foreign from our own, our ethnocentric walls are broken down and we wonder how much trust we should hold in our government. Ironically, we find ourselves aligning with the supposed threat to mankind’s existence rather than mankind itself.
The ending of “The Creator” is without question one of the more powerful, tear-jerking and satisfying conclusions to any film in recent memory. It will leave you shedding tears of compassion, completely moved and inspired, and hopeful for the future world where life alongside AI becomes our reality.
Still, what truly separates “The Creator” is the ethical questions the film raises and the unique perspective on AI it offers. Namely, we enter the theater anticipating that our fear of AI will only grow; but in reality, the opposite effect is achieved. And yes, of course we should remain wary of AI’s usage. However, we often forget the good this technology can bring to our world. AI can aid in the development of life-saving drugs and personalized treatment plans, develop models and resource allotment strategies to address the climate crisis and identify and respond to cybersecurity threats in real time. Education, business, agriculture, healthcare and even war will all be changed for the better.
But besides using AI as an assistive technology, perhaps we should be open to integrating artificially intelligent beings as fully-fledged members of society. Now, I know this may be scary to think about, and I too once feared this development. But I hope you may hear me out.
In the first half of “The Creator,” in what appears to be modern day Vietnam, a village lady tells Joshua “You can’t beat AI. It is evolution.” This line left me shaken; terrified, even. However, as Edwards lifts us into a world where AI and humans coexist, this sense of dread dissipates as optimism takes its place. Namely, Edwards suggests that we should not fear, but rather make peace with this inevitable transition. And more likely than not, this transition will not take place through a barbaric war for humanity, as so many previous directors have seemed to suggest. Rather, this will be a conscious and well-informed individual choice among humans to make this switch. Thus, we can say that the essence of what makes us human will never be lost, though the physical body we comprise may one day take on a more intelligent, efficient, and immortal form. In the meantime, AI and humans can work together to advance our civilization while maintaining all aspects of Earth that we presently cherish.
Notably, Edwards accomplishes this worldly vision through the most subtle details — visually stunning and affecting cutscenes that last only one to two seconds. A humanoid riding a dingy motorcycle through the Thai countryside with a load of bananas on his back, Cambodian factory workers manufacturing robotic bodies and not t-shirts, unfathomably modern cities in what we now consider a developing region. In this film, artificially intelligent Buddhist monks meditate in the Himalayas of Nepal, and humans and sentients fall in love, mourn and worship together. Such sights suggest a future where humans and AI do not only co-exist but work together to create something more beautiful than we can presently imagine. In the end, we see that this world Edwards paints — of vibrant, sprawling cities side by side with preserved natural beauty and a rural way of life — is one we should not fear but rather aspire to achieve.
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