“She looks like a little girl now, but she’s growing. Whoever has that kid, wins the war.”
Set in 2065, The Creator imagines a future where the West has banned use of AI following a nuclear attack and seeks to impose this decision on Asia, where robot “simulants” have been embraced. Gareth Edwards is brazen in drawing inspiration from a host of past science fiction films — most notably Blade Runner’s theme of hunted simulacra and whether they are alive (cheekily borrowing the line “more human than human”), along with Avatar’s military power viewing its might as right — yet he remixes these ideas into more than mere pastiche or homage, but a modern and thoughtful exploration of persisting fears regarding artificial intelligence. The Creator suggests that we are now conscious of our role in eradicating the neanderthals and are therefore fearful of the next threat like us. Edwards started out as a visual effects artist and the heavy use of VFX is not simply a flashy crutch but vital to the world building, using grounded, weathered technology to aid immersion as well as demonstrating the “othering” of the simulants in a similar way to District 9. The vast spaceship “Nomad” is an ever-present symbol in the sky of the West’s superior firepower and determination to eradicate the perceived threat — it is a clear metaphor for American colonial influence abroad, but it also makes for strange viewing just days after the Israel-Palestine conflict reignites, particularly with the film’s secondary theme of the harshness of war and destruction of innocence. Key to The Creator is the developing relationship between John David Washington as the conflicted hero and impressive newcomer Madeleine Yuna Voyles as the simulant child. Meanwhile Allison Janney provides a foe whose single-mindedness is understandable, contrasted with Ken Watanabe’s noble simulant guerrilla fighter. The Creator has an impressive sense of scale, aided by its numerous location shoots and a grandiose Hans Zimmer score. It is not without issues — the script is often clumsy with excessive expositional dialogue and reliance on contrivance to advance the story, but this is intelligent sci-fi that manages to create a world and tell a complete story within its 133-minute runtime. The result is the most satisfied I have felt when leaving a big budget sci-fi film for several years.
“Fictional characters get more empathy and respect from you than I do.”
Zendaya and John David Washington are immediately arresting as a glamorous couple returning home after a movie premiere in this pandemic production with no other actors. Malcolm is a director flying high on his film’s success, but we swiftly see cracks in the relationship, with tension bubbling up from unresolved frustrations. Scripted and acted like a stage play, including rants that become extended monologues, the camera draws in close during dialogue, showing us every emotion on faces of both the speaker and listener in alternating shots (there is some wonderful blocking on the rare occasions that they both share the screen). Full body shots tend be reserved for monologues, where the expressiveness shifts to body language. Appreciation for theatrical performance is likely to determine how enjoyable one finds Malcolm & Marie. There is something slightly strange about white writer-director Sam Levinson using the character of a black director as a mouthpiece to vent frustrations about film critics politicising minority creators. At first the comments seemed to reveal Malcolm’s lack of self-awareness and Marie’s intelligence, but returning to the subject again suggests Levinson wanted these points to be taken seriously. Fittingly, the single setting becomes increasingly claustrophibic even as the pair drift between rooms of the house, whilst the enveloping darkness is threatening in the brief sequences outside. The couple’s argument is not a single direction of travel: this is a tug of war between two people intimately familiar with how to hurt each other, reminiscent of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? but without guests to toy with as proxies. Unfortunately, Malcolm & Marie runs too long and does not close with any cathartic revelation, having essentially played its cards within the first forty minutes and then retreading the same ground to pad out its running time unnecessarily. As a result, due to no fault of the actors, both characters steadily switch from engaging to tedious.
“What’s happened, happened. Which is an expression of fate in the mechanics of the world. It’s not an excuse to do nothing.”
Leaving aside Christopher Nolan’s misguided messianic desire to be the saviour of cinemas in the midst of a pandemic, Tenet is an ambitiously crafted, big budget disappointment. Relative perception of time has a been a consistent theme throughout most of Nolan’s filmmaking, manifesting here in the form of “inversion” whereby people and objects can be manipulated to move through time in reverse. This culminates in a couple of densely choreographed action sequences in the film’s final hour which operate with some characters moving forward through time and others in reverse. Unfortunately, the preceding hour and a half of less creative action and obtuse discussion by emotionally vacant characters will exhaust many viewers’ patience, worsened by Nolan’s oft-criticised sound mixing, frequently rendering dialogue incomprehensible as it is muffled by masks or overpowered by the soundtrack. Nolan’s past scripts demonstrate his capability at effectively communicating high concept ideas, be it the realistic time dilation of Interstellar or the multi-layered dreamworlds of Inception. By contrast, the rules by which Tenet operates only really come into focus as the film ends, rendering most of the action little more than pretty spectacle without clear stakes. Perhaps the intention is to force multiple viewings but nothing about Tenet is engaging enough to warrant the time investment.
With his early films Spike Lee cemented his reputation as a defining black voice in cinema but lately he has struggled to find relevance. His latest joint is both timely and relevant, by turns hilarious and then horrifying in the familiarity of the racism it portrays. Peppering in slogans being used by the alt-right today would feel trite if it were not so blisteringly accurate. Lee’s intention is to encourage more people to vote, though it is not a message delivered expressly. The film’s lighter tone and typical Hollywood gloss on the story of a black police officer infiltrating the KKK will no doubt draw some ire from those who expect the subject of racial struggle to be handled with greater gravitas, but it allows Lee to entertain his audience whilst highlighting the serious risks posed by the recent resurgence of these right-wing ideas, all the more starkly when it follows a moment of levity.