Following his stints in the “MonsterVerse” and a galaxy far, far away, director Gareth Edwards returns to original filmmaking with “The Creator,” one of the most ambitious and well-crafted productions of the year.
“The Creator” follows Joshua, played by John David Washington, a soldier fighting in a war against artificial intelligence (AI) that detonated a nuclear warhead in Los Angeles fifteen years prior. Joshua is tasked with destroying the AI’s newest super-weapon, which he soon discovers is a “simulant” (robot) child, played by Madeleine Yuna Voyles, he names “Alphie.” When he discovers Alphie may know the whereabouts of his wife Maya, played by Gemma Chan, who has been presumed dead for five years, he goes on the run with Alphie and learns more about the true culture and motivations behind the AI he has been fighting.
While most blockbusters nowadays carry budgets north of $200 million- the most recent “Indiana Jones” film, for comparison, allegedly cost $293 million- “The Creator” carries a relatively modest budget of $80 million and blows almost every other sci-fi movie this year out of the water. Edwards utilized a wide variety of guerilla filming techniques, such as a minimalist crew, natural lighting and a camera so cheap you can find it at Best Buy, to stretch out every dollar as much as possible and the results could not have been more impressive. CGI characters blend into the frame almost seamlessly, set pieces feel practical and grounded and the ultra-wide 2.76:1 aspect ratio makes you feel like you’re witnessing something truly epic.
So for all its visual splendor, how does the story match up? Well, it gets a little more complicated than that.
Despite being a film ostensibly about AI, the story is more of an allegory for the actions of the United States military than anything. And, in a bubble, it really works. Soldiers are enlisting to fight a war they know nothing about aside from an isolated but horrific tragedy caused by “the other,” and will mow through as much of “the other” as possible until they win. Unfortunately, just like every other film that has ever been made, “The Creator” does not exist in a bubble and its very forgiving stance on AI is somewhat uncomfortable given the role it has begun to play in everyday life.
Murky real-life implications aside, the film’s other selling point is its originality. While “The Creator” is not tied to any other intellectual property, it is hard to unequivocally call it original. Stories very similar to this one have been told a million times over the years – “Logan,” “The Last of Us” and “A Perfect World” immediately come to mind. So for all the freshness of the canvas, the picture being painted is one we have seen before.
This is not to say “The Creator” does not execute its age-old story very well. It mostly works, in no small part due to the fantastic performances of Washington and Voyles, whose chemistry shines in every scene. Voyles in particular is a revelation, playing a young girl who is burdened with immense purpose she is far too innocent to truly understand, which contrasts heartbreakingly with the war-weary Joshua.
Other standouts in the cast include Ken Watanabe, who continues to be one of the most compelling parts of every movie he stars in. Here, Watanabe plays a simulant that Joshua had betrayed during his time undercover, and the warm yet fierce nature that makes him so fun to watch is on full display here. Allison Janney appears as well, with hairstyling that makes her look so much like David Bowie that she ought to play him in a biopic very, very soon. She plays a Colonel for the United States Army and has one very compelling scene early on, but her character quickly does a heel-turn into decidedly maniacal territory.
At the end of the day, “The Creator” runs about ten minutes too long and delivers a somewhat half-baked commentary, but it has a real beating heart thanks to its immensely talented cast and drop-dead gorgeous visuals that would impress even if it did carry a much heftier price tag. The film is not for everybody, but if you are reading this and think it is for you, be sure to see it on the biggest screen possible.