Movie review: 'The Creator' has filmmaking flourish no AI could dream up

Katie Walsh, Tribune News Service on

Published in Entertainment News

There’s an incidental extra-textual tension surrounding “The Creator,” the sprawling new original sci-fi film from writer/director Gareth Edwards. The film makes the argument for a peaceful coexistence with artificial intelligence, which isn’t exactly in line with the prevailing popular sentiment.

The film debuts a week after the Writers’ Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers reached a tentative agreement after a 146-day strike, during which one of the hotly negotiated sticking points was the role of AI in writing (this will also be an important issue when the currently striking Screen Actors Guild resumes their negotiations). So it’s a bold — even contrarian — stance for Edwards to assert that not only is AI a future we should embrace, but that AI could possibly be more human than human.

There’s also an irony in the fact that AI couldn’t produce the kind of beautifully creative filmmaking seen in “The Creator.” The script does use familiar story beats and archetypes for its emotional core, and it visually references classics like “Blade Runner,” “Star Wars,” “Apocalypse Now” and “Aliens.” But AI couldn’t produce the kind of cinematic moment that comes early in the film, where a group of swaggering American commandos in choppers swoop over a lushly green Southeast Asian landscape. Instead of Wagner’s “The Ride of the Valkyries” as Francis Ford Coppola used in “Apocalypse Now,” they get ready to land for their raid to the moody strains of Radiohead. Only a human creator could make that surprising choice work.

But Edwards and his co-writer Chris Weitz remain skeptical of humanity in “The Creator.” Or maybe they’re just skeptical of Americans. The U.S. military here is a brutal bunch, engaging in a retaliatory war against AI after a nuke has decimated the Los Angeles of the near future. AI is still welcomed in Asia, where humans have established an easy symbiosis with the robots, and so the U.S. has been carpet bombing every quaint village and hamlet in the region with a massive aircraft, an impersonal floating angel of death known as NOMAD.

Enter our hero, Joshua (John David Washington), who straddles an uneasy line between the two warring factions. Having lost his family and a few limbs in the L.A. nuke, he has worked for the military, going undercover to uncover Nirmata, the creator of all AI. He falls in love with his source, Maya (Gemma Chan) in the process, and when we meet Joshua, he’s cooing over her pregnant belly while a vinyl soul record plays in their beach hut. How humanely analog. There’s a raid, NOMAD strikes, and Joshua is left with only his memories and grief over what could have been.

He’s eventually recruited by General Andrews (Ralph Ineson) and Colonel Howell (Allison Janney) who want his undercover knowledge to find a lab where they suspect a powerful AI weapon called Alpha O has been hidden. The carrot they dangle is a hologram image of Maya. When Joshua breaches the lab, all he finds is a small AI child (Madeleine Yuna Voyles) who seems to have some knowledge of his missing wife. In the violent chaos of the raid’s fallout, he grabs the kid, whom he dubs Alphie, and hits the road.

Washington has a certain tabula rasa quality as an actor that serves him when he has to play a cipher, such as in “Black KkKlansman” or “Tenet.” But that doesn’t help when he’s playing a man who decides to go rogue behind enemy lines against his own army simply because he wants to see his presumed dead wife again (cue that dancing on the beach memory montage). He’s at his best when emoting opposite Alphie, who becomes a surrogate daughter, filling the void of his own lost child, but he doesn’t quite sell Joshua’s motivation that powers him through this relentless journey.

The best aspect of “The Creator” is the visual world that Edwards dreams up and executes with cinematographers Greig Fraser and Oren Soffer, production designer James Clyne, and of course, the visual effects team. Edwards got his start in VFX, and the advanced technical look of “The Creator” is seamlessly integrated with the natural world. It’s a stunningly beautiful film rendered in shades of orange, teal, black and green, combining the natural beauty of the Thai landscape with advanced robotics.

This kind of big, original movie is unfortunately all too rare in the Hollywood of today, and Edwards creates something that’s truly remarkable to take in. “The Creator” is indeed daring, from its worldview to its world-building. It’s a powerful anti-war, anti-drone, but pro-AI film. The storytelling has all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, and some of the representational tropes that Edwards and Weitz employ rankle. Underneath this shiny surface, there are unfortunately critical issues with the motherboard.




2.5 stars (out of 4)

MPA rating: PG-13 (for violence, some bloody images and strong language)

Running time: 2:13

How to watch: In theaters Friday


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