The fascination with the future has preoccupied filmmakers for ages. In the just-released The Creator, the future once imagined in previous such films, is actually here — then is now.
New technologies such as robotics and AI have grown exponentially beyond science fiction to embed themselves in our daily lives. What was once fictional is now a reality for many in a post-Covid world.
In this film, the major shift in society is due to an explosion caused by a supposed malfunction in the system of the Western world.
In the post-apocalyptic era, this leads to an invasion of a fictional Asia by the US government, creating a war between man and machine.
Ex-special forces agent Joshua (John David Washington) is recruited by the US military to hunt down and kill The Creator. This mysterious architect of advanced AI is believed to have developed a super weapon that has the power to end the persistent war and all mankind.
Upon landing in AI-enabled enemy territory, Joshua and his team of elite operatives discover this weapon is an AI robot in the form of a young child, Alphie (Madeleine Yuna Voyles). This gives him an ethical conundrum on how to proceed with the mission.
Characters such as AI revolutionary soldier Harun (Ken Watanabe), offer a voice on the AIs’ motive for their fight in the war. The friendship between Joshua, Alphie and Harun highlights the ethical implications of advanced technology and the difficult choices it can present.
This epic science-fiction thriller — set in 2062 in Los Angeles and New Asia — is a typical futuristic flick in some ways, exploring the relationship between humans, advanced AI and robots along with their impact on society. It asks audiences to think about the risks and benefits of robots and AI and if man and machine can co-exist.
Writer, director and producer Gareth Edwards’s aim was to depict a different future from what we have got used to in previous films.
This former visual-effects artist found inspiration in movies from his childhood, such as Blade Runner (1982) and Baraka (1992), to create a visually exceptional product.
Edwards wanted to keep to the traditional techniques of the past by not using green screens and filming on location in real villages in Japan, Thailand and the US.
The ancient temples, among other stunning Asian-style architecture, with robot monks towering over the land, are a demonstration of the naturalist vision he was aiming for.
This gives audiences a glimpse into a possible future where the traditional, spiritual and digital co-exist.
Where to go, West or East? When the Western world suffers from a tech glitch, they ban AI and want to attack the Eastern world which has already developed AI to the point where robots co-exist with mankind.
“You can’t beat AI. It is evolution,” is the view of one of the characters.
There is something to be said about the Western world’s thirst to maintain superpower status, although it is failing due to the Eastern world’s technological advancements and economic growth.
I wondered how, so far into the future, it is still a minority group of (mostly) white men in suits making decisions for the world.
Such nations — mostly driven by fear of losing global power — are reminiscent of men threatened by the prospect of losing their patriarchal privilege. Who bears the scars, though, from such wars, fuelled by atomic egos, if not innocent citizens?
Where will African governments and their citizens be in this possible future? They are likely to be, yet again, consumers and spectators as global superpowers fight it out.
The movie raises questions about the tendency of Western societies to appropriate culture, knowledge and technology. While it acknowledges the benefits of technology, it also serves as a cautionary tale about its misuse by governments and corporations.
The fight for emancipation and the evolution of robots is seen in movies such as Bicentennial Man (1999), I, Robot (2004) and Chappie (2015). These sci-fi films show robots who want to be free and feel, like the AI characters in this film.
Some humans sympathise with AI and robots seeking freedom, thus blurring the line between what is human and what is machine.
The scene showing the mass production of humanlike robots harks to the current multi-billion robot market, with countries such as China and Japan ahead of the pack.
This asks the question if such sci-fi movies are still relevant, especially in a post-Covid context. In that sense the contribution of The Creator to the genre is limited but the outstanding cinematography makes it worthwhile.
The relevance perhaps is that it is a cautionary tale about the potential risks and misuse of advanced technology.
The film challenges the audience to think about their place in an AI-enabled world — will we embrace robots as evolution or reject them as self-preservation to avoid extinction?
The Creator is a thrilling film that explores a range of complex and relevant themes related to technology, ethics, geopolitics and human-robot interactions. It offers commentary on the world we live in today but also raises important questions about tomorrow’s world — whatever it may be.