Gareth Edwards' The Creator is an odd beast of a film. At once a frustrating mishmash of sci-fi tropes so familiar that you can predict the next scene as you watch it and an impressively made film. Seriously, I can't oversell how stunning the look of the film is. Edwards uses a modest budget to create a beautiful, transportive world. It's enough to make Hollywood rethink their $200 million dollar superhero films that often look murky and dull. It's one of the best looking studio films in years. And also one of the most recycled.
The script by Edwards and Chris Weitz tells a surrigate father tale about a crestfallen ex-special forces agent who helps protect the world's first human/A.I. hybrid child from American military forces. It isn't the first film in recent memory that feels generated by ChatGPT but this one especially feels cribbed from other films. The story also paints the human race as a cancer on the planet, suggesting A.I. hybrids are the hopeful future. It does so in a rather crude way, offering little nuance to the exploration of different races existing together.
The film starts off with an impressive faux-archival footage reel painting an alternative universe where machines and humans existed together peacefully before a computer detonated a nuclear bomb, wiping out Los Angeles. The American government declares way on artificial intelligence. Eastern countries don't share the West's feelings and continue to exist peacefully with robots. America seems to be about to win the war thanks to a death ship called NOMAD that uses beams of blue light to target and destroy any enemies.
The fight is centered in Vietnam where an anonymous programmer Nirmata has built a superweapon that can destroy NOMAD. This is where special agent Joshua (John David Washington) enters the story. He has lost the woman he loves and their unborn child when she discovers he is undercover and helping the American government. He believes she is dead until Allison Janney's Colonel Howell informs him she is still alive, prompting him to help them hunt Nirmata.
The choice to set The Creator in Vietnam gives the film its distinct look. The mixture of "Blade Runner"-esque cyber tech with the primordial landscapes never fails to impress. Greig Fraser and Oern Soffer shoot the film in a naturalistic style, lending a sense of realism to this futuristic world. The land feels deeply lived in. Edwards uses a technique he used in his first major film Monsters, adding the special effects to the completed edit rather than building the edit around the effects. Shooting on location gives The Creator a true sense of place, augmented by some impressive CGI. The Creator's themes get somewhat muddled. The questions around if robots can have true feelings has been explored many times in better films. The film never seems to land on a point of view when it comes to these themes. We know Joshua will have a change of heart once he develops a relatioship with "the ultimate weapon" who happens to be a young girl. The script never complicates this or adds any interesting variations on this trope.
Washington gives a compelling performance, even if it takes a bit for him to thaw. Madeleine Yuna Voyles as the weapon gives a heartwarming performance. She's never cloying, just adorable. She gives the film heart that almost gives enough emotional heft to overlook the story's familiarity.
Edwards is a visionary filmmaker and The Creator is a knockout, visually. While I found the story frustratingly too much so many other films, the film won me over thanks to the amazing filmmaking.