The Creator review: Spectacular visuals but generic storytelling
The new film from Rogue One director Gareth Edwards is sci-fi that preaches to the converted – although said converts will find much to enjoy.
Any new hardware-heavy sci-fi film from the director of everyone’s favourite Star Wars spin-off, Rogue One, has a lot to live up to. And Gareth Edwards certainly delivers when it comes to gun-toting robot hordes and massive great futuristic vehicles ripping apart the landscape with The Creator.
It’s on shakier ground, though, when it comes to shaping a compelling story about war between humans and robots.
In the near future, following an AI-instigated nuclear strike on Los Angeles that killed billions, Earth has split into rival power blocks; the US-led West, which has outlawed AI, and a pan-Asian superstate where humans still live in harmony with their microchipped mates.
The US military has created a massive, flying anti-AI system called NOMAD to wipe all AIs from the planet, but then gains intel that 'the Creator' – an elusive Asian architect of advanced AI – has also developed a weapon that could turn the tide of the war.
So they send former spy Joshua (John David Washington) back to Vietnam to locate and destroy the weapon.
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He, though, is more interested in locating his ex-wife, Maya (Gemma Chan), the daughter of The Creator, whom he fell in love with while undercover. He thought she’d been killed in a US raid five years previously, when she was pregnant with his child, but surveillance footage reveals she’s still alive.
When Joshua locates the Creator’s new toy, though, he’s shocked to learn it’s an AI in the form of a young girl… who may be able to lead him to Maya. For that reason, he’s prepared to turn traitor.
From there, the film becomes a sci-fi road movie for much of its run, part Deus Ex, part Children of Men, but considerably less subtle and thought-provoking than either.
There are also elements of Blade Runner, Apocalypse Now, Akira and, yes, Star Wars in the mix (especially the comedy background robot moments), and it doesn’t so much wear these influences on its sleeve as tattoo them on its arm.
Because there’s little originality here. The film has nothing new to add to the "robot revolution" genre, despite painting the AI as the sympathetic characters - which isn’t difficult when the US military characters are such cartoonishly one-dimensional bad buys. Hell, one of them threatens to shoot a puppy at one point.
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But the film never really grapples with any philosophical questions about AI intelligence beyond the most cursory of nods ("Do robots go to heaven?" is about as profound as it gets).
Even the crucial, central relationship between Joshua and the little AI girl – Alphie – feels oddly vague and under-explored, predicated mostly on the need to move the plot forward. She just kind of mystifyingly imprints on him like a duckling and things go from there.
These issues, along with some glaringly obvious twists and bizarre lapses in logic (the humanoid AIs have a suspiciously accessible off-switch) have you wondering if the script itself was AI-generated.
For all these problems, there are some spectacular visuals and a number of energetic, well-choreographed – occasionally even witty – action sequences when the film truly comes to life.
While it’s no Dune, the production design delivers some gloriously over-the-top sci-fi hardware and backdrops for cult connoisseurs, though Edwards’s bold decision to shoot the entire film on small, lightweight Sony FX3 cameras does lead to a slightly grainy quality that may make cineastes wonder if they need to pay IMAX ticket prices to see it.
He still makes the rural Vietnamese locations look majestic in the film’s ultra-widescreen ratio, though.
The Creator is sci-fi that preaches to the converted. And said converts will find enough to enjoy.
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