By Jana Monji
If you were choosing someone to infiltrate an organization in East or Southeast Asia, would you choose someone who looks like John David Washington? Just as having White secret agents running around East Asia, trying to disappear in a crowd seems questionable, so does having a 5-foot-9 former pro football player African American man running around East and Southeast Asia. It doesn’t seem to be the best place to blend in or hide, but that’s just one of the many plot holes in the science fiction action thriller The Creator.
The United States is now locked in a battle with New Asia, a regional designation that seems to cover Japan, Thailand and Vietnam. I don’t know what happened to the two Koreas or mainland China. What I do know is that a decade prior to the events of the film, Artificial Intelligence forces detonated a nuclear warhead in Los Angeles. That was the beginning of a war, but the audience is told that the US isn’t at war with Asia. It is hunting down AI and destroying them. New Asia happens to believe that humankind and AI androids can live peacefully together. The US does not.
The titular Creator is a mysterious figure who is designing AI that can learn and think and threatens mankind. Five years ago, Joshua (Washington) was part of an undercover special ops plan. He was supposed to infiltrate the people close to the Creator and discover who the Creator was. Before he could identify the Creator, his special ops buddies with the help of a special attack spaceship called Nomad, launched an attack on the headquarters and home where Joshua is staying with his pregnant wife, Maya (Gemma Chan) and her father, Harun (Ken Watanabe).
With his cover blown, Joshua watches Maya and her father disappear in the chaos. Believing them dead, he returned to the US, quit the military services and sunk into a deep depression. But Joshua is called back into service by Colonel Howell (Allison Janney) to hunt down the Creator and this mysterious weapon. The clincher is that Maya is apparently alive.
The guilt-ridden Joshua joins a team of elite operatives in New Asia and behind heavy security, he finds, not his wife Maya, but Alpha 0 (Madeleine Yuna Voyles who is of Thai, Laotian, Cambodian and German descent), an AI android in the form of a six-year-old child that Joshua names Alphie. Believing that Alphie can lead him to Maya, Joshua disobeys orders and goes on the run. He’s searching for Maya; Alphie is looking for freedom.
Despite the scenic beauty of Southeast Asia and the androids belonging to this world, the technologically advanced New Asia seems unable to defend itself against the US. The plot (with story by British director Gareth Edwards and screenplay by Edwards and Chris Weitz) leaves little time for character development. There are lovely scenes between Chan’s Maya and Washington’s Joshua, but just what makes them work as a couple and what do Maya and her father do within the New Asia society? This is never clear although it is essential information.
There are scenes that might remind the audience of depictions of the Vietnam War and that forces one to wonder: Are there no protests in North America? And given the current rise in anti-Asian incidents due to the COVID-19 pandemic, one also has to ask: What is happening with Asian Americans? And that’s besides the initial question: Why wasn’t an Asian American cast in the lead.
The world of The Creator doesn’t see all the complications of race–in New Asia or North America as if there were no lessons learned from the various waves of anti-Asian prejudice in the US. Asia is just a place to find adventure and enlightenment but not a place to find heroes. Even in the US, the heroes or spies sent to Asia aren’t of Asian descent. With Watanabe, Chan and Voyles as well as Washington, the diversity is there, but does this it work?
The Creators premiered at the Fantastic Fest in Austin, TX on 26 September 2023 and is scheduled to be released in theaters only on 29 September 2023 by 20th Century Studios.
For a longer review of The Creators, visit AgeoftheGeek.org.
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