Artificial intelligence has fascinated filmmakers for decades now – Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey gave us the iconic evil robot HAL 9000, while Steven Spielberg offered a softer touch with Haley Joel Osment as an uncanny kid cyborg in A.I. Artificial Intelligence.
Rapid advancements in technology over the past few years have led to new moral quandaries, particularly around the creation of art. These have been at the centre of the Hollywood strikes, with screenwriters and actors concerned that cheaper synthetic copycats could threaten their work. (The screenwriters’ strike ended at 8am this morning, after an agreement on various issues including establishing regulations on the use of AI.)
Director Gareth Edwards takes a more compassionate approach with his sci-fi epic The Creator, which imagines a future where highly advanced ‘simulants’ are fighting a war against their oppressive human forefathers.
In the aftermath of a deadly nuclear blast, the US has banned the use of AI while the continent of New Asia has fully embraced it, leading to a long war. Battle-scarred special ops sergeant Joshua Taylor (a gruff John David Washington) finds himself on a mission to destroy a devastating new AI weapon in hopes of seeing his missing wife again.
There’s just one complication: said weapon is a five-year-old simulant child (an endearing debut from Madeleine Yuna Voyles) with incredible powers, and suddenly Joshua finds himself caught between the warring factions.
Fans of Star Wars spin-off The Mandalorian – or those who remember Eddie Murphy’s 1986 comedy-fantasy vehicle The Golden Child – might find the plot a little familiar, as Joshua’s stern exterior begins to soften in the presence of his new ward, whom he nicknames Alphie. The film leans hard into sentimentality at the expense of its plot, which becomes quite convoluted and difficult to follow, despite lengthy exposition monologues delivered at semi-regular intervals.
Edwards certainly crafts a world that looks beautiful and feels lived-in, with nifty tech designs (and some that are a bit silly, such as waddling kamikaze robots) and lush shots of the Thai countryside. It’s a handsome film and demonstrates the filmmakers’ vivid imagination, but this doesn’t quite extend to the story itself, or its dialogue which often veers into cheesy territory.
Nor does the film really delve into the concerns around AI’s potential for misuse, instead imagining a simplistic world where humans are the cartoonishly cruel villains and robots are the beatific heroes who just want peace. As such it’s not really a film about AI – it’s one about tolerance and acceptance.
While that’s a worthy sentiment, The Creator does downplay the valid ethical questions many have about AI in favour of mawkish, ironically synthetic-feeling emotional displays, never managing to do more than gesture toward its clear inspirational touchstones.