Review | The Creator | 2023
While his name may not get mentioned as often as others, director Gareth Edwards is, for my money, one of the most talented filmmakers when it comes to mainstream, large scale blockbuster filmmaking.
There is certainly something to be said for how unusual it feels to see a large scale science fiction film back on multiplex screens that isn't based on an existing IP or part of some larger franchise. Therein lies the paradox at the heart of The Creator - it somehow feels both old and new, familiar and unusual, an anomaly in a cinematic landscape that lacks originality, yet struggles to bring anything new to the table.
Set in the near future, the film is set in a world where the western world is at war with AI, having blamed sentient robots for detonating a nuclear weapon in downtown Los Angeles decades earlier, leading American forces to hunt down and destroy the last remaining AI being harbored in southeast Asia. Joshua (John David Washington), an American soldier sent deep undercover to find Nirmata, the mysterious creator of all AI, ends up falling in love with man's daughter, only to see her die in a premature raid launched by his own forces. Devastated, he withdraws from the service, only to be pulled back in by news that she may yet still be alive, and finding her holds the key a weapon that could end the war once and for all.
That weapon, it turns out, is a robot child (Madeleine Yuna Voyles) capable of learning, loving, and growing - and with the power to control all technology, she could either destroy NOMAD - the west's powerful AI hunting eye in the sky, or be used to hunt down and destroy all remaining AI life. But her budding friendship with with Joshua complicates things, and he soon finds himself being hunted from all sides as he seeks to be reunited with his long lost wife.
It's hard not to root for a film like The Creator - it's an original story filled with arresting visuals and strong performances at its core. It's also difficult not to feel somewhat let down by the way it seemingly coasts on ideas that have been covered many times before in stronger films. Films like Blade Runner, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, and Children of Men hang heavy over every second of the film, and The Creator simply doesn't have the power, majesty, or heart of any of those films. Its attempts to wrestle with the ethical quandaries of creating artificial life never seem to really come together in a unique or satisfying way. Not to mention the fact that by setting the film in Southeast Asia, its ideas feel more orientalist than the anti-imperial themes it seems to be half-heartedly striving for.
Ultimatekly, there's enough here to recommend. The film looks great - Edwards certainly knows how to craft a thrilling, large-scale action sequence, and young Madeleine Yuna Voyles is something of a marvel as Alphie the AI child. But The Creator often feels less than the sum of its parts, a film with a lot of big ideas that never figures out how to explore them in a truly meaningful way.