NOW IN THEATERS! “No one saw it coming.” That’s what people will claim when the A.I. apocalypse inevitably arrives. The same statement can be applied to writer-director Gareth Edwards’s epic The Creator, an $80M, wholly original (as in, not based on anything) cautionary tale about the dangers of artificial intelligence, with relevant sociopolitical undertones and nary a trace of agenda-pushing. Who would have thought a film like this could be released in 2023? And yet here it is, paving the way for more risk-taking creative endeavors unless it flops at the box office, which it very well might.
Edwards and co-writer Chris Weitz pack a lot into a refreshingly brief (at least by current standards) running time of about two hours sans credits. This thing moves, even if it missteps at times. In the not-too-distant future, the Earth is ravaged by an ongoing battle between humans and A.I.-powered androids with spinning discs in their heads. Most of the A.I. folk have settled in New Asia. When a pregnant woman gets killed, her baby daddy, undercover agent Joshua (John David Washington), loses the will to live. But, he is sent to retrieve the robot’s most powerful secret weapon: an adorable child whom Joshua names Alphie (Madeleine Yuna Voyles).
Although initially driven by trauma/apathy, Joshua forms a deep bond with Alphie, rediscovers his joie de vivre, and soon the hunter becomes the hunted. Among the most undeterred pursuers and A.I.-haters is Colonel Howell (Allison Janney), who ruthlessly eliminates anyone standing in her way. (Fair warning: this is a brutal flick, both physically and emotionally, pushing the PG-13 rating to its vaguely defined limit). Along the way, Joshua discovers some truths about his past and the purportedly A.I.-caused nuclear explosion in L.A. that triggered the global war.
“…sent to retrieve the robot’s most powerful secret weapon: an adorable child…”
While major props are due to Edwards and Weitz for the impressive world-building, the plot of The Creator is not exactly groundbreaking. Think The Professional if it bred with A.I. and invited Elysium to join the party. The tone is incredibly well-sustained, as are the slick visuals, courtesy of cinematographers Greig Fraser and Oren Soffer, who create a rainy, despondent palette that’s never drab. There are jaw-dropping images to behold: ships scanning large chunks of the Earth with translucent-blue lasers, our hero clinging to the side of a giant disintegrating space station, flesh and mechanisms clashing. But there are odd stumbles in momentum here and there, as if the story were intermittently hesitant about where to go next, and the film certainly does not shy away from sentimentality.
Still, our heroes save those moments with affectionate performances. Washington is proving to be one of the most charismatic leading actors, following closely in his father’s footsteps (that voice!). He sells every sparkling tear streaking down his face while his imposing and charming presence grounds the proceedings. Voyles keeps up. Let’s just say hearts will be melted. She carefully side-steps the “annoying child” archetype, landing right into the “adorable-as-heck” category – but she never relies on cuteness to utterly sell her character. The duo’s chemistry is the stuff celluloid dreams are made of.
I remember when Edwards stepped into the cinematic arena with his $500K debut, Monsters. It was so visionary that studios pounced on the young filmmaker – since then, he’s only directed two films: the $160M Godzilla and the $200M Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. While both had their merits, The Creator marks the first time, it seems, that the filmmaker stepped out from the shadows of franchises and dipped back into what made him stand out in the first place. He’s proven to have a flair for mesmerizing visuals, a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, and plenty of pathos. Hollywood, take note. More of this, please.
"…mesmerizing visuals, a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, and plenty of pathos."