Review: The Creator
It’s fitting that a film about AI can only produce a facsimile of emotion, story-telling, and filmmaking. Gareth Edwards made a reputation on visually-compelling entries into major franchises, but his efforts have been somewhat devoid of character. That trend continues, unfortunately, with his original sci-fi feature The Creator, which all the more disappointing given the work was rife with potential.
Taking place in the 2060s, the film opens with a montage of a ’50s-style advertisement depicting the development of AI beings that were created to serve humanity. Whether this is intended as alternate history or just a stylistic storytelling choice is unclear, the first of many vague decisions in the plotting and editing of this film. Regardless, AI causes a nuclear bomb to detonate on Los Angeles, resulting in the United States declaring war on all artificial life.
The film picks up years into the war, where special agent Joshua (John David Washington) has lost his wife, a casualty of an American attack on New Asia, a nation still cooperating with the AI beings. He is tasked with striking into New Asian territory to destroy a weapon the AI have developed that could take out America’s greatest asset in the war: an atmospheric war station that can shoot advanced, targeted missiles.
Though the parallels to drone warfare and commentary on AI technology are timely given the last years’ great leap in AI, The Creator misses out time and time again on exploring the greater implications of all its neat themes and writing choices. There is much to be explored merely with our protagonist, a man whose own nation killed his greatest love, and who also died while she was on an undercover mission. There is so much guilt, anger, and grief to explore there.
And at a surface level, that is what the film is about. Washington’s compelling motivation is to see his wife again and do whatever it takes to make it happen. But the film clips along at such a pace that few scenes actually explore the ideas presented. This is a running theme, as the ideas that the AI beings are fighting for freedom, worrying about their existential nature, and wanting to be more than tools are all presented in singular bits of dialogue here and there. But either the script or the film’s final cut don’t take time to actually develop these ideas or make us understand where they come from.
The edit seems more to blame of the two, as the film sometimes starts moving at a incredibly quick pace for no apparent reason, entering into a montage-like editing beat. The film gives the impression that were was two more hours of content that were cut down for time to a point where it feels neutered.
That’s not to say The Creator doesn’t have admirable qualities. Nobody can fault Gareth Edwards’ visual sensibilities. His work with cinematographers Greig Fraser and Oren Soffer produces some excellent images. Wide shots of a beach cove at sunset, with a sci-fi laser gleaming on the horizon are beautiful to behold. The film’s sound design and art direction all create a tactility to the film, even where the world-building is hasty and unpolished.
John David Washington also brings that Washington charisma to the lead role. There is an effortlessness to his humor and acting that make it easy to side with the main character. His scenes of grief also feel believable, and the relationship he develops with Alphie, the co-lead character who is an artificial being of great importance, does threaten to bring you tears. Gemma Chan and Ken Watanabe do what they can with their limited screen-time as well, and it was a delight to see country music singer Sturgill Simpson have a small yet somewhat impactful role.
It is the film’s strong suits that make the mixed effort all the more frustrating. Edwards was primed for a really unique, big-budget sci-fi, something missing at the box office. He unfortunately repeats the sins of Rogue One, leaving his characters paper-thin even with good concepts and premises at their cores. The Creator could have been a compelling exploration of what makes a sentient being a life, of what death means to AI, and of what makes life worth living. These are all ideas dancing at the corners of the frame. But Edwards is sadly never able to bring The Creator into sharp focus despite the visual beauty. Like the AI-generated imagery we see today, The Creator is an uncanny valley version of everything it wants to be.