Unless you’re a Spielberg or a Cameron, it seems increasingly difficult to launch an original, high-concept, sizeably budgeted film with major studio backing. So, in that regard hats must go off to director Gareth Edwards for getting The Creator off the ground and into multiplexes; extra points for doing so with a film centred on the subject of artificial intelligence, which during the recent (and now freshly negotiated) writer’s strike was a serious point of contention.
The world that Edwards has created here is stunning. There’s a familiarity to it, yet it’s distinct in its own surroundings. It demands to be explored. And it’s because of such that The Creator comes up short. Despite its 135 minute length – which is quite often felt – Edwards and co-writer Chris Weitz‘s script feels as if it skimps on a few details. The world building is expansive. The ideas within are less realised.
Owing its DNA to The Terminator and The Matrix just as much as it does to the likes of Platoon and Apocalypse Now, The Creator is an examination of war and ethics. Set in a not-too-distant future, John David Washington leads the charge as Joshua, a hardened, ex-special forces agent grieving the loss of his wife, Maya (Gemma Chan), from years prior. The titular moniker refers to an elusive architect who has developed a mysterious weapon with the power to end both the raging war and mankind itself. You know, just your standard sci-fi actioner narrative.
Joshua and a team of elite operatives (led by an angry Allison Janney) journey across enemy lines into the dark heart of AI-occupied territory, only to discover the world-ending weapon they’ve been instructed to destroy is an AI in the form of a young child (Madeleine Yuna Voyles). Again, none of this is particularly groundbreaking in terms of the motions propelling us from point A to point B, but its the surroundings that help The Creator feel as if we’re witnessing something more than it is.
The landscape of “New Asia” and the employed sweeping shots, the Death Star-like weapon floating ominously in the above skyline, and the unique 1950’s mentality of the military’s design and advertising are at quite fascinating odds with each other, and it’s this contrast that conjures up a much more interesting conversation than the film is willing to have regarding the limited societal development of the depicted United States. Edwards has envisioned a country that would spend billions upon billions of dollars on correcting the technological errors of artificial intelligence over the progress of almost every other factor. The irony is real.
When The Creator aims for quieter, more reflective moments, it’s arguably a much better film. But given the state of audience retention, it’s practically a given that something as grand as this requires spectacle beyond the visuals, and so a cluster of action sequences are included for good measure. And though the action is competently made, it can’t help but also feel as if it’s at the expense of certain character development, as beyond Joshua and the young child, dubbed Alphie, many other plays feel like expendable pieces on an intricate chess board.
Maya (who Chan can’t decide is either British or Australia, going off her interchangeable inflection) and Harun (an underutilised Ken Watanabe) are both leaders of AI embodiments known as Sims, who are humanoid and have been embraced by a conglomerate of Southeast and East Asian countries. They live in constant fear of the American military, which again feels like Edwards making sly comments on the state of global racism, as the Sims predominantly present as Asian. But such a choice can’t help but also expose a lack of diversity. Yes, so many of the supporting cast are Asian, but there’s a lack of nuance and depth to their characters – something that so many Western media productions fall victim to.
Equally brilliant as it is flawed, The Creator is entrenched in a deep, rich world that Edwards has structured to a certain point. Up to that point there’s no denying how beautiful and entangled it is, but there’s so much more that deserves to be explored, and the conversations suggested through the depiction of race and class is infinitely more fascinating than the AI-driven plot it opts to showcase. AI could never dream of what The Creator puts forth (which I hope will be a main takeaway that artificial intelligence can never be a substitute), even if the humans at the helm haven’t entirely fleshed out the necessary requirements to push this film beyond its beautiful surface.
THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The Creator is screening in Australian theatres from September 28th, 2023.