1 of 5 | Alphie (Madeleine Yuna Voyles) communes with A.I. machines. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios
LOS ANGELES, Sept. 26 (UPI) -- The Creator, in theaters Friday, invents a fascinating original vision of the future. Unfortunately, it doesn't quite succeed at turning that vision into a compelling story.
By 2055, artificial intelligence has reached a point at which robots can adopt human faces to integrate with our society. But when AI detonates a nuclear warhead in Los Angeles, the entire Western world bans AI.
The East doesn't, though. The territory known as New Asia continues developing AI without incident, but the American military still seeks out any AI to destroy it.
By 2070, Joshua (John David Washington) has retired from undercover work for the U.S military after his pregnant wife, Maya (Gemma Chan), seemingly died in a raid.
Col. Howell (Alison Janney) offers him one last mission to help find Nirmata, the creator of AI and a possibly still-living Maya.
What Joshua finds is a child robot, Alphie (Madeline Yuna Voyles). Instead of turning Alphie in, Joshua protects her, hoping she can lead him to Maya.
The Creator offers some intriguing ideas about what the world might look like in 2070, but stops short of populating it with life. From the still desolate Ground Zero of Los Angeles to underground robot shops and rural farmlands, these places seem to only exist for the protagonists to visit.
It never feels like Joshua and Alphie are interrupting the lives of the people they meet. The supporting characters are just waiting for the plot to reach them so they can serve their purpose.
Films like Blade Runner and Robocop are so rich that it's easy to imagine what is happening in those worlds once the main characters leave them.
It's also hard to sense when Joshua and Alphie formed any kind of emotional bond, on which the story relies. Joshua explained the difference between dying and shutting off a machine, and they had one conversation about heaven.
Aside from Alphie looking like a child, there's no sense that Joshua was growing paternal. She was just a mission. That, however, is no fault of Voyles, who portrays the innocence of the robot effectively.
The aesthetic of The Creator is off-putting, as well. Director Gareth Edwards films with minimal light, so unless the scene is in broad daylight, it's hard to see, even in IMAX. Very few scenes take place in broad daylight.
The sound design also makes it challenging to hear most of the film's dialogue. Much conversation is drowned out by mechanical noise and military clatter.
The military teams also yell indistinctly over walkie-talkies. It creates a general cacophony that makes it challenging to feel immersed.
These are deliberate choices, but if they're not appealing to a particular viewer, then the whole movie doesn't work.
The script by Edwards and Chris Weitz ultimately leaves the film's most provocative theme unexplored. Half the world, and mainly America as represented in the film, created something dangerous and then refused to take responsibility for it.
There are examples of societies using the same AI technology harmoniously in the film. But America insists if they blew it, it's too dangerous for anyone to have.
That would be a poignant satire and/or treatise on American industry. Alas, The Creator isn't really interested in that.
The divide is simply a matter of plot mechanics. Howell's team remains on Joshua and Alphie's tail, keeping the duo on the run until the parties collide and resolve the conflict.
The robot effects are an honorable next step from classic movie effects. Police robots and bomber robots move fluidly like people.
The Creator does have a sense of humor, with translation devices literally telling a soldier to please make love to yourself. A few other pieces of technology are interesting, but then the film returns to the standard plot.
Originality is in short supply these days, so The Creator is an admirable effort. It needed perhaps a bit more development to fully flesh out the world Edwards envisioned.
Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001, and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012 and the Critics Choice Association since 2023. Read more of his work in Entertainment.