Moving Pictures
Sep 29, 2023, 06:26AM

Eh, Creator

Gareth Edwards' The Creator has potential, but falls short of its Kubrickian ambitions.

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Gareth Edwards' The Creator has the makings of an ambitious auteur project by a director with something to say, with the benefit of a huge budget. And the plot is timely for more than one reason. The film, however, falls short. It plays with some fascinating ideas, but doesn't take them to their natural conclusion. Visually, it's fine, if not beautiful or groundbreaking. And both thematic and visual elements are lifted from a long list of places, from Avatar to 2001: A Space Odyssey to The Terminator to both Star Wars and Star Trek. The British filmmaker Edwards directed the better-than-average 2016 Star Wars movie Rogue One, and this is his first film since.

The Creator’s set-up is a double-whammy of topicality: It's about artificial intelligence, and also an allegory for the New Cold War between the U.S. and China. (The film shot in many countries, among them Thailand, Vietnam, Nepal and Cambodia, but not China; the plot refers to a pan-Asian entity called "New Asia," and not to any specific country other than the United States).

The setup is a killer: Sometime in the future, when AI’s embraced along the lines of current trends, there's an accidental nuclear accident in Los Angeles that kills millions. The U.S. government blames the disaster on AI, banishes the tech completely, and tries to eradicate it worldwide. However, "New Asia" continues to use AI, leading the U.S. to invade.

Joshua (John David Washington) is an American special forces soldier, who goes undercover in Asia, where he's fallen in love with a woman (Gemma Chan) of major significance to the AI cause. We’re meant to ask: Are AI-powered robots dangerous, or are they slaves, deserving of freedom?

After the introduction, Joshua meets a robotic child (Madeleine Yuna Voyles), an apparent Messiah figure who’s described as a “weapon,” but really wants to bring about peace. Joshua then spends the rest of the film protecting and bonding with her. It's essentially the plot of Avatar: An agent of the Americans goes undercover and eventually native, while the U.S. military machine is the movie's main villain.

The Creator argues that AU isn't that bad, and it's something of a stand-in for WMDs in Iraq—the thing Americans are fear-mongering about in order to justify war. That’s a fascinating idea, but beyond that the film doesn’t do enough with its concepts. One gets the scene that the history rushed through in the intro is more interesting than the plot of the actual movie.

Washington is fine in the lead role, while Voyles is a find as the messianic robot child. Allison Janney was a counterintuitive choice in the Stephen Lang-in-Avatar part as the American general, but one that works, while Ralph Ineson disappears into the role of a general/politician. Edwards, who co-scripted with Chris Weitz as he did on Rogue One, stages the action relatively well, especially in the third act. Even if we can see the 2001 and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan homages coming a mile away. It’s refreshing to see a big sci-fi action film based on an original intellectual property, especially one that’s this ambitious, but The Creator doesn’t reach the heights it was shooting for.


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