Within the opening moments of "The Creator," we learn a few things about our future. Artificial intelligence has made fantastic advances. Robots are cooking our meals and chauffeuring us around town. They're probably even writing our films and, sure, furiously churning out movie reviews, provided people in the future still read. Though why wouldn't we be reading, what with all the spare time on our hands thanks to the wonders of AI?
Also: The robots have nuked Los Angeles, leaving nearly 1 million people dead, and judging from the brief glimpse the movie provides of our fair city, finally clearing up traffic on the 405.
So, a mixed bag.
"The Creator," too, is something of a jumble, what with its gorgeous visuals distracting you, at least for its first hour, from a sluggish story about a reluctant shepherd caring for a child possessing supernatural powers that might save humanity — or eradicate it entirely. The movie is being promoted as a cinematic unicorn, an original sci-fi story without a trace of existing IP. It's marketing through guilt: If you've complained about superhero fatigue and don't buy a ticket for "The Creator," you're part of the problem and should spend the rest of your life confined to a multiplex dungeon that plays nothing but DC Comics movies on a loop.
Unfortunately, there's precious little in "The Creator" that feels fresh, particularly if you've seen one of the first two "Terminator" movies, watched "The Last of Us" or bought your kid (OK, yourself) a Baby Yoda plush toy. That's, what — about 99% of the film's target audience? The other dozen of you should prepare to be dazzled.
To be fair, everyone can be impressed by the worlds that "The Creator" builds and the seamless way that director Gareth Edwards ("Rogue One") and his team (including the great cinematographer Greig Fraser) meld visual effects into a movie that was shot on some 80 locations around the world. They even turn LAX into a futuristic wonder, offering us some hope that the airport's incessant construction might be finished a few decades from now.
Do we dare to dream of such a future? There are other hopeful signs in "The Creator." After surveying ground zero of that nuclear attack, we're whisked away to Southeast Asia, where Joshua (John David Washington) and his pregnant wife, Maya (Gemma Chan), cuddle to the wafting sounds of an Astrud Gilberto record playing on a turntable. Los Angeles might be rubble, but vinyl lives. Beauty and record stores have found a way to survive. Also: Global warming doesn't seem to be much of a concern anymore, and America seems to be calling the global shots.
After the whole L.A. thing, the West banned AI, but Asia did not. So the American military has created NOMAD, basically a sleek, wing-shaped Death Star, that hovers around what's now called "New Asia," bombing AI strongholds and generating the kind of fear and loathing that characterized a prior conflict in the area. Meanwhile, there's a rumor making the rounds that an elusive figure called the Creator has built a weapon that could neutralize NOMAD and end the war.
What does that have to do with Joshua and Maya? Well, in addition to appreciating the lilting sounds of bossa nova, Joshua is an undercover special forces agent assigned to hook up with Maya because she might know the identity of the Creator. Before his duplicity can produce the kind of frank discussion that might deepen their relationship, NOMAD shows up, Maya disappears and there's nothing for Joshua to do but go back to L.A. and lament the dearth of good sushi restaurants in the wake of a nuclear holocaust.
But just when Joshua thought he was out, he's pulled back in again as he learns that Maya might be alive and that the super weapon could be connected to a 6-year-old girl named Alphie (Madeleine Yuna Voyles). That puts Joshua and Alphie on a collision course to some serious bonding. Hopefully, Joshua watched "The Mandalorian" when he was young, because this little scamp is going to try his patience, or, you know, annihilate existence as we know it.
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