Gareth Edwards’ ‘The Creator,’ his first movie in seven years since ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,’ is a technical marvel with seamless special effects, and it’s visually gorgeous, too. The movie is reportedly shot with the Sony FX3 mirrorless camera on a $80 million budget. The latter made me wonder, “No way they could have shot this movie with such a price tag,” since what I saw on the big screen – IMAX, to be exact – looks like it costs a lot more. It is roughly around $200-300 million. Come Oscar time; it would be a crime not to see ‘The Creator’ being shortlisted in the technical award categories, notably Best Visual Effects and Best Cinematography.
The story in ‘The Creator’ isn’t based on an existing IP of a sequel, prequel, reboot, or franchise revival of any kind. Instead, it’s nice to see a major studio (20th Century Studios) take a gamble on investing in an original sci-fi movie. Okay, not exactly ‘original’ by a long stretch since Edwards, who co-wrote the screenplay alongside Chris Weitz, borrows from numerous notable genre films such as ‘Blade Runner’ since it explores the familiar sci-fi theme of what it means to be human.
The theme in question revolved around the evolution of AI, which takes place in the future, where they were originally created to help mankind in various sectors, from the medical field to upholding the law. Then comes the U.S. imposing the ban and elimination of these AI robots following a nuclear detonation that wiped out the city of Los Angeles. The Southeast Asian countries, a.k.a. New Asia, however, have a different viewpoint on how they embrace AI as humans and artificial intelligence are seen co-existing in peace and harmony.
At the heart of the story is Joshua (John David Washington), a former special forces agent who suffers from a personal tragedy following a botched undercover operation earlier in the movie. Then, five years after the event, two high-ranking officers from the U.S. Army, including Colonel Howell (Allison Janney) and General Andrews (Ralph Ineson), approach him for an important mission. Joshua initially declines but agrees to take on the mission after Howell shows him evidence that his otherwise long-disappeared wife Maya (Gemma Chan) is seen alive after all.
With Howell in charge of the mission with a team of elite soldiers, Joshua is tasked to locate and destroy a mysterious secret weapon developed by the elusive Creator. Apparently, the secret weapon turns out to be an AI young child that Joshua later named Alphie (Madeleine Yuna Voyles).
The U.S. army invasion of New Asia echoes the Vietnam War’s unjust war-torn horror and tragedy. Edwards, who cited ‘Apocalypse Now’ as one of his major sources of inspiration, draws storytelling parallels between the 1979 war-movie classic and ‘The Creator.’ Both movies centered on a secret mission to track down and assassinate a target that involves the military traversing deep into enemy territory.
There’s an obvious shade of ‘District 9’ and even Edwards’ own debut feature ‘Monsters.’ Here, ‘The Creator’ shared some similarities to these two sci-fi films related to the alien invasions on foreign territories (Johannesburg in ‘District 9’ and Mexico in ‘Monsters’). Except for the ‘alien invasion,’ turns out to be the hostile U.S. army led by Colonel Howell.
‘The Creator’ doesn’t break any new ground and while the story tends to be plagued by clunky dialogues and erratic pacing, Edwards manages to offset some of these shortcomings with, as mentioned earlier, incredibly stunning visuals. There’s a sense of lived-in quality between the sights of humans and AI robots and the rural backdrop of New Asia, which is shot on location in Thailand.
The movie also works well when it depicts the character arc between Washington’s Joshua and Madeleine Yuna Voyles’ Alphie. It’s hard not to get invested in their journey together, going from Joshua’s initial mission-focused approach to disobeying the direct order as he subsequently shows empathy towards the innocent-looking Alphie and decides to keep her safe from harm.
Washington’s performance can sometimes be bland, which immediately reminds me of how he acted in the previous sci-fi film, ‘Tenet,’ three years ago. But at least he remains admirable, playing a conflicted hero with a moral center. He pairs well with newcomer Madeleine Yuna Voyles, a child prodigy who has more than just adorable looks. As the story progresses, she even brings an emotionally affecting depth to her Alphie character.
As for the rest of the supporting actors, Gemma Chan made quite a lasting impression in her sympathetic turn as Joshua’s long-lost wife, Maya. The same goes for Ken Watanabe, who plays Harun, one of the AI robots leading the uprising against the US army. And let’s not forget about Allison Janney, who excels in her no-nonsense role as Colonel Howell.