Movie ReviewsJosh Reviews The Creator

Josh Reviews The Creator

The Creator is set in 2055, in a world in which A.I. has evolved to the point that robots and humanoid “simulants” look and act very human.  But after A.I. detonated a nuclear warhead in Los Angeles, the United States declared war on all A.I. and used its military might to attempt to wipe them all out.  The A.I. who remain have hidden in the nation of “New Asia.”  Five years ago, sergeant Joshua Taylor (John David Washington) was undercover among the A.I., attempting to locate “Nirmata”, the hidden creator and/or leader of the A.I. bands.  While there, he fell in love with a human A.I. sympathizer, Maya, though Maya was killed in a U.S. military raid gone wrong.  Now, U.S. Colonel Howell (Allison Janney), believes that Nirmata has created a new weapon that will give the A.I. the ability to forever defeat the Western forces, and she ropes Joshua back into the fight.  But rather than a weapon, Joshua discovers an incredibly advanced A.I. child called Alpha-O.  Rather that destroy her, Joshua and “Alfie” soon find themselves on the run from both the A.I. and the U.S. military alike…

The Creator was directed and co-written by Gareth Edwards, who directed and co-wrote Rogue One (Chris Weitz co-wrote both films with Mr. Edwards.)  Perhaps someday we’ll discover the truth of the behind-the-scenes turmoil that went on during the creation of Rogue One.  I have no idea how much of the finished film should be credited to Gareth Edwards and how much should be credited to Tony Gilroy (who was involved to some degree with reshoots and editing of the film, and who went on to create the extraordinary Rogue One spin-off TV show, Andor).  Whoever is responsible for what, I adore Rogue One (I think it’s the third best Star Wars film after #1 The Empire Strikes Back and #2 the original Star Wars), and I was thrilled to learn that Mr. Edwards was returning to the cinemas with an original sci-fi film.

The Creator is a thrilling piece of original sci-fi.  It is visually stunning.  Mr. Edwards has an incredible eye for crafting imagery on screen, and the visual effects team for this film have outdone themselves.  How Mr. Edwards and his team pulled this film off, at a budget that is nothing compared to most blockbusters these days, is amazing.  (I have read many fascinating articles on the making of this film, such as this one which describes the filmmaking team’s ingenious approach of creating all the visual effects in post-production, after filming and editing the film.  What a brilliant approach.  I suspect many other filmmakers might be soon following in these footsteps.)  The film is enormous in scale, packed full with futuristic city-scapes, military hardware, ships, cars, tanks… and of course the robots and “sims” who populate the films, each one of whom is an incredible visual effect.  The “sims” have human-looking bodies and faces, but the back of their skulls are robotic, with a circular aperature that enables one to see right through the back of their heads.  It’s a super-cool design that also must have represented an enormous visual effects challenge.  I’m impressed.

The Creator is certainly inspired and influenced by many great works of sci-fi cinema that have come before, from Blade Runner to Star Wars to Akira to District 9.  It also draws visual reference to Vietnam War films such as Apocalypse Now, Platoon, and others.  But I was pleased at the way in which Mr. Edwards and his team were able to mix up those influences in a way that created something that felt new and different to me.  The film is packed with cool designs that I thought were unique and memorable.  I’ve already mentioned the look of the human-looking sims; I’ll also highlight the creepy waddling robotic bombs; the U.S.’s floating mega-weapon NOMAD space-station; the A.I. monks in robes… these are just a few examples of the film’s wonderfully memorable images.  The design-work in this film is top-notch.  And because this film was shot in real locations around the world, rather than on a studio back-lot, the film has a visual richness, depth, and scale, that come together to truly sing when seen on a big screen.

It’s interesting to see the film’s human-vs-A.I. storyline depicted using the visual cues of a Vietnam war story, in which we’re used to see American soldiers fighting indigenous people against a backdrop of jungles, rice paddies, etc.  It’s a strong visual short-cut to communicate to the audience the pointlessness of all this violence and bloodshed.  (It’s an interesting choice that the U.S. is specifically identified as the Western power leading the anti-A.I. war… while the Eastern nation harboring the A.I. is just given the generic name of “New Asia”.  I’d have liked to have seen this generic “New Asia” developed with a little more specificity.  I do appreciate the boldness of Mr. Edwards and his team in creating a big fantasy movie that is so strongly critical of the U.S. military and the war fear can be used to justify terrible actions.)

Where the film falls short is that I didn’t feel the characters were developed as deeply as I’d have hoped.  The cast is terrific and bring their A-games, but I didn’t feel any of the characters were explored in the way I’d hoped, and most of the character arcs develop in fairly predictable ways.  The film’s central relationship — the father-daughter bond that develops between the mis-matched pair of Joshua and Alfie — is rather familiar.  I enjoyed the story and those characters… but there aren’t many surprises in how it all plays out.  I also felt the film goes on too long.  Joshua makes a key choice in a scene in a hidden monastery under attack by U.S. forces, and that felt like the climax of the film to me.  But then there’s a long sequence that comes after in which the characters are taken back to Los Angeles and there’s more running around and fighting, and while there were lots of cool moments in there, I felt it wasn’t needed.  I think the film would have been better served had it found a way to wrap up the story sooner after Joshua makes that choice.

John David Washington blew me away in BlacKkKlansman, and he was the best thing about Tenet (a film that otherwise disappointed me).  He’s wonderful here in the lead role of Joshua.  Mr. Washington has a charisma that leaps off the screen; I just love watching this guy and whatever he does.  He brings a nice mix of world-weariness but also sarcastic charm and good humor to the role.  The young Madeleine Yuna Voyles, who plays Alfie, is fantastic.  What a discovery!  Her soulful eyes are incredible.  Bravo to Ms. Voyles for her performance, and bravo also to Mr. Edwards and the others who helped guide her in her work on this film.  I’ve loved Allison Janney ever since The West Wing, and she’s marvelous here as the embittered Colonel Howell.  She’s tough and dangerous and I loved this character.  Gemma Chan (Eternals) is a luminous on-screen presence as Maya (though I wish we’d gotten to know her character better; she mostly appears in the film as an idealized woman seen through Joshua’s rose-colored memories).  Ken Watanabe (Letters from Iwo Jima, Inception) is wonderful as Harun, a simulant leader fighting in New Asia.  (Here too, I loved this wise, grizzled character and wish we’d seen more of him!)  I was happy to see Amar Chadha-Patel (who was so terrific in the Disney+ Willow TV show as swordsman Thraxus Boorman) pop up in a small role as a bad-guy simulant.

So while I do have some criticisms of The Creator, I’m glad to have seen it and I’m impressed that Mr. Edwards and his team were able to create such an epic original sci-fi story aimed at adults.  I look forward to seeing this again, so I can soak in the visuals even more deeply.

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