In a Theater Near You — When I first saw the poster for movie “The Creator,” it pointed out that it was from the director of “Star Wars: Rogue One.” With the image of a lone robot in a tropical landscape, I assumed the movie was a further extension of the Star Wars universe – perhaps about a cult of droids that worshipped their human manufacturers?
No, it is is a standalone story with no connection to Star Wars – a near-future “what if.”
It starts off depicting an alternate timeline where robots / artificial intelligence are developing in the mid-twentieth century. Then, most of the movie takes place about 40 years from now when robots are so mainstream that they apparently have lives of their own.
The simplest artificial people are clunky automatons, but the more sophisticated ones look human – except for an odd rotating cylindrical shaft running crossways in their skull where their ears should be.
But the United States is waging a war against all of them. A.I. is accused of the terrorist nuking of Los Angeles, and so the U.S. has a silently menacing superweapon floating over the last robot-tolerating enclave, a united southern Asia – in a clear analogy to the Vietnam War.
That is where we are introduced to the protagonist (played by John David Washington of “Amstrerdam,” “Tenet,” “BlacKkKlansman”), who is working undercover with a love interest (Gemma Chan of “Eternals,” “Raya and the Last Dragon”) who develops into something more.
In her first big role, Madeleine Yuna Voyles plays the child in the middle of all this. Ken Watanabe gets more action than he usually does as a robot guerrilla.
“The Creator” reminds me of “Ad Astra” and “Mission to Mars” – other near-future tech adventures that gave me the feeling that they wanted to be in the epic vein of “2001 – A Space Odessy.” But 2001 was an unforgettable, unrepeatable landmark – and no successful science fiction / speculative fiction movie maker has risked and succeeded at the high concept (and length) of the original 2001 epic…except perhaps “A.I.” to some extent (which was begun by the maker of 2001).
The image of a literal hole in the head of the robots is jarring, making it clear they are not human, although everything else about them looks real – including appearance and emotions. But after a while, the spinning hollow chrome cylinder – which is an incredibly serious vulnerability that is never a vulnerability – looks more like an excuse to show off special effects that are optically indistinguishable from reality, rather than portraying sensible technology.
Likewise, the closing act feels more like an increasingly implausible lack of monitoring technology and ability to maintain control in situations that should have zero possibility for lacking control.
The silent giant crosshiars targeting of sites from a near-orbit station is a spooky aspect of this high-tech war, especially how it is first introduced at night at ground level.
“Apocalypse Now” meets “Blade Runner” meets “Avatar” – and seeking their level of gravitas, with mixed results.
My rating: Three out of five unenclosed hard drive holes in the head.