THE STORY – As a future war between the human race and artificial intelligence rages on, ex-special forces agent Joshua is recruited to hunt down and kill the Creator, the elusive architect of advanced A.I. The Creator has developed a mysterious weapon that has the power to end the war and all of mankind. As Joshua and his team of elite operatives venture into enemy-occupied territory, they soon discover the world-ending weapon is actually an A.I. in the form of a young child.
THE CAST – John David Washington, Madeleine Yuna Voyles, Gemma Chan, Ken Watanabe, Sturgill Simpson & Allison Janney
THE TEAM – Gareth Edwards (Director/Writer) & Chris Weitz (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 133 Minutes
Although receiving a big-budget theatrical sci-fi film that isn’t a sequel, remake, or based on a comic or video game is refreshing, Gareth Edwards’ “The Creator” still leaves something to be desired. Although strikingly shot and boasting an intriguing concept, the film is wildly derivative of other (better) sci-fi films and never adequately explores its themes or characters. As a result, it feels emotionally detached. And although Gareth Edwards remains a skilled director of action, his latest film is inconsistently paced, especially as it crawls towards its predictable conclusion.
“The Creator” exists in a world where the United States declared war on artificial intelligence (A.I.) following a nuclear strike on Los Angeles. While the U.S. has forsworn all use of A.I., Asia has integrated it fully into its society. As such, the U.S. has built a death-star-esque spaceship used to nuke locations throughout Asia from orbit to exterminate any A.I. hiding within. When the U.S. Military learns that A.I. has developed a secret weapon that could turn the tide of the war, they send a team to destroy it that includes Joshua (John David Washington), a former soldier who had once served undercover amidst A.I. and human collaborators. However, once behind enemy lines, Joshua becomes separated from his team and learns that the “weapon” is something far more complex than he ever could have imagined.
One leaves “The Creator” with a good idea of what Gareth Edwards’s favorite movies are. His cinematic influences are imparted all over this film. Clearly, he’s a big “Star Wars” fan. Some action sequences could have been spliced into the third act of “Rogue One” without anyone noticing. There’s also a lot of James Cameron’s “Aliens” going on here. And it’s no coincidence that both “Star Wars” and “Aliens” are considered Vietnam war allegories because the Vietnam/Iraq war parallels here are a thousand times less subtle. There’s a sequence early on in which U.S. soldiers tear through a southeast Asian village, tormenting and threatening villagers suspected of harboring A.I. fugitives that feels it’s ripped right out of “Platoon.”
As the film progresses, it incorporates elements of “Blade Runner” but reminds viewers more of the less heavily favored “Elysium.” Heavy-handed metaphors and derivativeness aren’t necessarily a problem. But “The Creator” doesn’t compensate in other ways with its writing. Based on “Godzilla” and “Rogue One,” Edwards seems more talented as a director than a writer. With the exception of Joshua and his young A.I. companion Alphie (a breakthrough find in Madeleine Yuna Voyles), the characters are all one-dimensional. The film boasts an excellent supporting cast, including Gemma Chan as Joshua’s once-thought-to-be-dead wife he’s now searching for named Maya, Ken Watanabe as a leader of new Asia harboring robots and A.I., and Allison Janney as a tough-as-nails Colonel hunting down Joshua and Alphie, but doesn’t allow either of them to move beyond functioning as archetypes. Joshua and Alphie’s relationship is also never fully fleshed out as similar dynamics in “Logan,” “Leon: The Professional,” and “The Last of Us” have shown us what this type of relationship could be, which makes the film’s attempts to elicit emotion towards the end feel unearned. It doesn’t help that the dialogue has some real clunkers throughout, and John David Washington continues to be a bland leading man presence.
Although the film’s visuals are stunning, the actual world-building feels half-baked. Much is made of the fact that Asia has found a way to live harmoniously with A.I., but the film doesn’t really consider what that would look like (I.E., elimination of human jobs, etc.). The world presented as fully integrated with A.I. is a dime-a-dozen semi-dystopian sci-fi setting, except that many of the police are robots. Clearly, Edwards wants to present the surface of this world and, if successful, leave the possibility open to return to it in some form or another in the future for further exploration, but that doesn’t leave one feeling fully satisfied with this initial introduction.
Additionally, although the film begins with a propulsive sense of momentum, Edwards slows things down into a series of increasingly repetitive battles and massacres of robots and civilians before culminating in an “Elysium”/”Star Wars”-esque finale that doesn’t seem to make sense logistically. For a concept that feels so original, little in the film’s story actually is. The narrative bones of the story are familiar, and the inconsistent pacing doesn’t help. Despite this, at times, the film can be highly engaging. Greig Fraser and co-cinematographer Oren Soffer’s striking wide-open vistas, all shot in real locations, and guerilla-style filmmaking give the film a vast sense of excitement rarely seen in blockbuster filmmaking today. They consistently find ways to add visual dynamism, such as by filling the frame with fire, tear gas, and rain instead of overflowing it with inconsistent CGI. It’s an economically, well-put-together film that will have many producers and studio executives re-thinking how blockbusters can be presented.
Edwards employs intriguing creative flourishes throughout as well. One shootout partially captured through a surveillance camera is especially memorable. And to his credit, where many PG-13 sci-fi films these days lack real stakes and insist on burying emotion in comedy, “The Creator” creates a brutal, ruthless world where anyone can die, and the stakes feel very real. It’s about as harsh and gritty as a PG-13 sci-fi can be today.
And, of course, the CGI is seamless—both the digital background extensions and the wholly digital characters. The visual effects work here is more consistent than almost any recent superhero movie and was made for a quarter of the cost. The sound design, courtesy of “A Quiet Place’s” Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van der Ryan, is also inventive, providing a sense of weight and believability to the robots and spacecraft, making Edwards’ world feel all the more immersive and believable.
It should be reiterated that Gareth Edwards being able to make an original sci-fi film on this scale, in this manner, should be celebrated…but for the right reasons. Its hopeful success is one that has the power to inspire others to make their own original sci-fi films and usher in a new era of blockbuster filmmaking for half the cost. While there is plenty to admire in “The Creator,” it ultimately doesn’t come together as a whole on a character or narrative level to be considered a new flat-out masterpiece many were hoping for.