Yes, it’s true that big budget original sci-fi films are rarely made this day and age. And I will admit, if you’re going to give any director a shot at one in this climate, Gareth Edwards, who in general I consider to be a terrific filmmaker, deserves it more than anyone. But (and I’ll probably be in the minority here) I found The Creator to be a massive and somewhat pretentious mess.
It was honestly one of my most anticipated movies of the year, and to my surprise I found myself sniggering at gaps in logic, and cringe worthy dialogue/moments in a completely self serious movie that treads on the well worn ground of better Lone Wolf and Cub and A.I. films before it.
It’s difficult for me to dog this movie because we need to stand up for original movies to be made. But I simply cannot defend a movie that divides itself into chapters, but also thinks the lines “What do you want?” “For robots to be free” are profound statements. The Creator simply leans heavily into the predictable and the cliched, pulling from the likes of other better movies like Ex Machina, Blade Runner, AI: Artificial Intelligence, E.T., and even Logan in its simplistic Lone Wolf and Cub narrative and ideas on how it views humanity and free will within synthetic creations. But does so without a shred of the same intelligence or emotion from those films.
Instead, we’re given a dull, silly script where characters form unearned relationships with one another, and every character blatantly says or shouts their motivations at the audience, as if we can’t figure out what it is they want.
In a post-apocalyptic future, where A.I. supposedly caused the nuclear destruction of Los Angeles, John David Washington stars as Joshua, a bitter former special forces soldier, traumatized (that’s an understatement) by the supposed death of his wife (Gemma Chan). Upon hearing of her possible survival, he decides to take a mission to help American Special Forces hunt down and kill a being known as “The Creator,” the inventor and supposed messiah of all A.I, and destroy their supposed secret weapon. Things change when he finds out the weapon is actually an A.I. modeled after a young girl.
And from there, you can probably guess every single beat the story is going to take. Forgive the excessive arrogance on my part, but that’s how I essentially felt watching this movie. And it’s because I’ve seen it. I’ve seen the “man escorts cute child across the country” story so many memorable times in the past several years with Logan, Children of Men, The Mandalorian, and The Last of Us, all being incredibly recent, and incredibly well done, engrossing works of art. And the “Lone Wolf and Cub” model can be absolutely fine, if executed properly. But unlike those examples, where the relationships are built up organically, yielding earned emotional payoffs, we get no such thing between Joshua and Alphie.
In fact, I don’t recall many scenes in which these two characters actually learn to connect with one another, apart from an on-the-nose conversation about Heaven. They just do, without any real moments of tenderness between them, and we’re supposed to buy it. Then by the end of this movie, the characters tell each other they love each other? Huh?
There’s also a big “twist” in this movie that, not only ends up being one of the most obvious directions the story could go down, but also really makes you think about how truly stupid Washington’s character is. It’s a twist regarding a character he should know inside and out, and yet when the reveal is made, it’s played like some huge surprise for him. But given how obviously spelt out it is for the audience about a third of the way through the movie, he’s clearly the only one shocked by this news. They literally painted a picture of it, and instantly I figured it out. So once it was revealed, I couldn’t help snigger to myself, “yeah, no s**t.”
Furthermore, for 90% of this movie, the only thing Joshua’s character ever does is scream about his dead wife Maya. If you took a shot for every time this character yelled out the word “Maya,” I guarantee you’d be passed out 30 minutes into the movie. In fact it’s the only thing that ever really defines this whiny, unlikable character.
Yes we understand how traumatic a loss like that can be. But you can only see flashbacks about John David Washington dancing with Gemma Chan on the beach so many times in such a cheesy, over-the-top, cloying way before any semblance of pathos you might have around his trauma or their relationship goes fully numb. We get it Joshua. You love your wife. There’s literally nothing else about you that makes you interesting. Shut the hell up!
And this sort of writing for a “character arc” is the core problem with The Creator. Co-written by Edwards and Chris Weitz, too many times the script falls into the “tell not show” category, often literally spelling out what it is these characters want. We get a cartoonishly cliched one dimensional Army general in Allison Janney whose sole motivation is “we need to kill robots because… revenge!” We get Joshua the “Maya Man” yelling to the top of his lungs how his only motivation is to find his possibly un-dead wife. And we get Alphie, played by relatively cute Madeleine Yuna Voyle, telling everyone she meets that she just wants freedom for robots.
We as an audience understand all of this. Obviously the robots want freedom. That’s the whole point of the story. It’s usually the point of every A.I. story. It doesn’t need to be spelt out for us in literal dialogue by any single character. And yet the script seems to not only think it’s necessary, but needs to repeat it several times throughout the course of the movie. Which is frustrating.
There’s a huge plot point about Alphie which also yields some incredibly silly gaps in logic as the events of the movie unfold, which is that she has the ability to control A.I. (through what seems like silly praying in the middle of serious moments). This makes Alphie incredibly powerful, and the only hope A.I. has in achieving (sigh) freedom. Well Alphie being a powerful technomancer is all well and good. Except for the dozens of times throughout the story when she can clearly use her powers to stop some sort of machine attacking or chasing them, and she does nothing. At one point, the character is attacked by “Doc Ock” robot arms, and does nothing to stop them. But two seconds later, we see she can stop them. Eye roll.
This is one of several gaps in logic that came across as baffling contradictions of the rules or motivations the movie sets up for its characters. Sure you have your average moments of movie stupidity, like several characters seemingly not understanding how to get rid of a bomb stuck to their equipment or clothing before it explodes (something that happens multiple times in the movie — hint: if your backpack has a bomb attached to it, toss the backpack, stupid). But larger leaps in logic that make no sense from a character level as well.
In one scene, Joshua implores at a villain not to download the mind of a recently deceased character into a drive for the sake of letting the deceased respectfully rest in peace. When the character does complete the download shortly after, Joshua takes the downloaded file from the character, and gives it to another character for it to eventually get used later. What the hell? What about all that crap about letting the deceased rest in peace? Didn’t you literally just make a huge deal about not doing this? But it’s okay for you to do it because… reasons?
The saddest thing about all of this is that perhaps one of the most visually astonishing movies in the past few years is wasted on a terrible script with poorly executed ideas we’ve seen before. The visuals in this movie are so incredibly impressive, as is the cinematography by Greig Fraser, of Dune and The Batman fame. Not a single shot in this movie looks hokey. Every incredibly designed A.I., every piece of futuristic equipment used looks beautifully well-rendered and convincingly real. Giant tanks and missiles fly with impressive menace. And the designs of the A.I. characters is brilliantly brought to life.
Additionally, the movie sounds astonishingly brilliant. Part of that is the incredible score from (speaking of Dune) the legendary Hans Zimmer. With every booming note, he makes me believe there’s a sense of emotion and danger within a film, even though it’s wasted on characters I didn’t care about, and their spontaneous half-baked relationships.
Thankfully the amazing sound mixing and editing, which I think will justifiably be present at next year’s Oscar ceremony, compliment the incredible visuals, adding a sense of realism to the A.I. subjects we meet.
I will give the film additional credit for making some visually striking action scenes. It’s not necessarily the most thrilling movie of all time. In fact there are long stretches of slowly paced scenes faux-philosophizing and sermonizing what it means for A.I. to basically be human (because again, the movie needs to constantly remind us of this). But when there are battle scenes or scenes of peril and survival, things do feel epic. There’s just less stakes for me given how little I cared for these characters.
Unfortunately, one of the incredibly large complaints I also have to make about the film has to do with its treatment of Asians. We always strive to support Asian representation in film, but it’s also important to criticize when a movie massively showcases an astonishing lack of reverence to these characters. For a film that condemns White colonialism of Asian countries, we see a shocking lack of regard for the amount of on-screen Asian deaths presented throughout the film.
Its depiction of “New Asia” as an impoverished continent of farmers waiting to be plowed by a tank and saved by an outsider is incredibly tone deaf. And furthermore, the use of its biggest Asian stars, from Ken Watanabe to Gemma Chan, really relegates them to minor side character status or literally objectifies them as the sole quest for its protagonist. It was another piece to add to the Jenga-tower of anger I felt from the already multitude of issues I had with this movie (albeit most of those were to do with the character and narrative problems already mentioned).
Which is just why my heart was incredibly broken by a movie with as much potential as The Creator. I wanted to love this movie so much, and on almost every narrative and character level, I was left disappointed by either painful dialogue, obvious narrative reveals, tone deaf moments for Asians, unlikable characters, left-field character and relationship beats, and been-there-done-that ideas/themes that were better executed in much stronger films.
The thing is, original sci-fi tentpole films are so hard to come by. For every District 9 there’s an Elysium or Chappie. And just as such, for an Ex Machina and Blade Runner we now have The Creator. And at the end of the day, films like this hurt the chances of another Ex Machina succeeding. So I wish I could tell you to run out and see this one to ensure more original sci-fi content gets made. But sadly, I just can’t out of fear that obvious and complacent scripts might come with it. It’s just ironic that for a movie that’s as intent at shouting to us that robots and A.I. have the capacity to feel real, everything about The Creator simply feels artificial.
Overall Score (on an entertainment level): D
Overall Score (on a representation level): D
*This review was written during the WGA and SAG/AFTRA strike. To support the strike, please donate to the Entertainment Community Fund.*