Reviewed by Cliff Homewood
Call me Kenneth but robot uprising stories have been with us for a long time. When I saw the trailer for The Creator I therefore wasn’t impressed, reminiscent of a great 90s SF movie, Screamers (based on Philip K Dick’s Second Variety). The dialogue seemed to be ‘AI blah blah AI blah blah blah AI’ felt like it had to use ‘AI’ as the buzzword of the moment to get funding. For around half hour the film suffers from this but eventually settles into other synonyms and the language felt more natural. I wasn’t impressed with the trailer and I wasn’t impressed with the film. Like the trailer the film just reminded of other works like District 9 (being set in ‘New Asia’ (Hello Blade Runner!)) It didn’t help having Gemma Chan, whilst an excellent actress, she reminded me too much of Humans, one of the best pieces of original SF in recent years. They even gave her a similar sounding character name (Maya vs Mia).
Akta Manniskor (Real Humans) the Swedish original, is also worth watching, its first season better than the remake, the remake improved upon the original in later seasons to finally establish itself as the better of the two (by the fact there is more to enjoy). The Russian version on Netflix, Better Than Us is also worth checking out. So why do I rate Humans as original SF but not The Creator? Akta Manniskor showed tender awkward relationship between an old man in denial that he’s going senile and the robot the family employ to look after him, Humans showed the issue of a family droid being secretly used for sex, Better Than Us explored sex droids and world of cheap Chinese imports. To me these were all original relatable stories on how technology changes relationships, whereas The Creator is more bad robots with scenes of the gritty horrors of war that soldiers commit that weren’t SF at all. Whilst powerful, this could have been in any war film. As the film opens up we find good robots and bad humans. Very broadstroke storytelling, although the Avatar element of the plot was enjoyable.
The film has other great actors like Oscar winner Allison Janney, but given such 2-dimensional characters it doesn’t matter. The best acting in the film is from the child, Alphie, played by Madeleine Yuna Voyles, who puts the lead, John David Washington as Joshua to shame. I never engaged with him, he had an emotive enough back story, but he did not evoke emotion.
The film is visually sumptuous, but like Gareth Edwards’ debut Monsters, the story felt generic. There were some original beats, but it lacks cohesion on exactly what is going on, you can work it out but if conveyed fully would have felt and been understood instead of having to be provided as small pieces of exposition.
“What I like in Science Fiction is when you don’t understand everything, and I tried to convey that here,” Gareth Edwards.
Whilst I agree with some mystique I don’t think Edwards’ conviction should apply to the plot. At one point you know what’s going to happen and it does, but it never explains how. It’s bad scripting, seeing characters get out of a scrape without explanation.
The bridge sequence felt original, although it wasn’t, a touch of humour bringing the scene alive. Also there was interesting humour in being smuggled across the border but the film never explains why they were helped, leaving better films to do that. A good example of the visual excellence is having a hole through the head of the androids which made them feel eery and unnerving.
Perhaps the film should be called The Realtor as it shows you around. A fast-moving film, showing its landscape without enough depth or context to understand. But Gareth Edwards’ taste differs from mine, he likes mysterious, I like sociological extrapolation, how does this technology change everyday things? He seems to concentrate more on slam bam action. Only towards the end of the film when Alphie moved me via Madeliene’s pure emotion did I finally find myself caring about proceedings and for me that is not good enough.