The Creator is Gareth Edward’s Shiny Science Fiction Spectacle That is Too Derivative to Completely Captivate

Audiences are crying out for original science fiction films that aren’t attached to pre-existing IPs. Gareth Edwards The Creator seemed to be the opportunity for the writer/director to build a world of his making – something where he wasn’t bound by Star Wars like he was with Rogue One or the Kaiju Monsterverse with Godzilla. Unfortunately, despite visually breathtaking sequences, and some tense and clever set pieces, The Creator is a mish-mash of ironically mainly unoriginal ideas that have been tropes in war and science fiction movies for so long we can recognise them instantly.

The film begins with a montage wherein America embraced artificial intelligence and synthetic life. From the more basic robot models created to do menial work to the advanced simulants who combine human and cybernetic forms. “More human than human” declares the advertisement (and perhaps Edwards himself). Before long America has become dependent on their cyber creations for everything from the service and construction industries, to creating new forms of families where the synthetic is an integral part of the social fabric. Such a utopia is bound to collapse, and it happens when artificial intelligence apparently sets off a nuclear explosion in Los Angeles leading America (and presumably ‘The Western World’) to outlaw A.I. and start a cold war with “New Asia” who has decided to live in harmony with technology.

If it all sounds familiar it is because it is. Terminator and Blade Runner immediately spring to mind. America has embedded a special operative to track down Nirmata (Sanskrit for Creator). That operative is Joshua Stone (John David Washington) who falls in love with Maya (Gemma Chan) a woman with close ties to Nirmata. Their idyllic life together falls apart when the army sends in its powerful orbiting weapon NOMAD and Maya is caught in one of its blasts leaving Joshua to witness what he believes is the death of his wife and unborn child.

Five years later in 2070 Joshua is a broken man in more ways than one. Having lost his parents in the LA blast and being injured from it, he is also grieving his most devastating event which ended with Maya realising he had betrayed her and her simulant family. Approached by two senior army personnel, Colonel Howell (Allison Janney) and General Andrews (Ralph Ineson) to infiltrate a hidden Nirmata base and destroy a possible world-ending weapon. Joshua’s response is a less than polite “No” considering everything he ever cared about is gone, until they dangle imagery of a still alive Maya in front of him.

Once the film re-enters the world of New Asia it becomes a blender of Vietnam inspired films. The American forces have few issues with terrorising the local population to get what they need. The echoes of Apocalypse Now and Platoon are not so much echoes as thundering reference points. As a critique of American interventionism and imperialism, Edwards is not settling for subtle. New Asia is “anywhere that looks like Asia” with rice paddy fields and stunning vistas. Its cities are from Douglas Trumbull’s design books. New Asia hasn’t simply integrated artificial intelligence it has become an indistinct blending of once specific territories with their own belief systems and histories.

The humanity ending weapon appears in the form of a young child simulant, Alpha One (Madeleine Yuna Voyles) who quietly watches anime in a heavily guarded facility. She is the picture of innocence and despite his earlier protestations that simulants and robots “aren’t alive and aren’t real” Joshua develops a bond with her – firstly because he believes she can lead him to Maya, and not so gradually as he realises that she is not a threat.

Chased by both the American forces and the Nirmata, Josh and Alphie become the Logan and X-23, or the Joel and Ellie, or the Jim Hopper and Eleven, or even the T2 Terminator and John Connor (really, take your pick). Thankfully Madeleine Yuna Voyles is a genuinely engaging young talent who manages to bring John David Washington to some kind of life.

It comes as little surprise that before he was a director Gareth Edwards worked in VFX. Despite The Creator having multiple visual references, it is still a spectacular looking film and his world building is exquisite. The NOMAD station/weapon is an incredible piece of design work. Edwards along with cinematographers the multi-feted Australian Greig Fraser and Oren Soffer know instinctively how to merge real locations with CGI. The production design by James Clyne is also brilliant as it shows a future that is also a tactile reminder of the past.

The performances by Madeleine Yuna Voyles, Ken Wantanabe, Ralph Ineson, and especially Allison Janney are top-notch. Less convincing are John David Washington and Gemma Chan, which is just one of the movie’s issues when it comes to wringing out as much emotion as it can. This is perhaps Washington’s best performance to date, but he’s generally not as charismatic has he needs to be to carry a major role.

What lets The Creator down most is that it’s a boiler plate script aching to touch on deep philosophical questions. When it functions as a science fiction action piece it is competent and exciting. Once it lends itself to questioning what humanity means and where it can be located (spoiler: it’s not hypocritical warmongers) it just sleepwalks into multiple cliches.

Reveals that will surprise no one are dispersed through the film, and the one essential reveal seems to be just given a line and let dangle. No one will deny that Edwards and his team have created a wonderful spectacle with some enormously entertaining sections, but “that looked pretty, or that was well shot, or that looks cool,” can only take The Creator so far.

The Creator is a film that is simultaneously under and over cooked. When it reaches for profundity it misses. When it tries to be subtle it fails. If one is willing to overlook the writing and watch it as a kinetic action infused science-fiction war thriller The Creator is replete with all the nail-biting hero moments required. Dig beyond the immaculately created surface and you’ll find wasted potential. However, potential is potential, and Gareth Edwards does show that he has it if he can refine his own voice and not rely on existing tropes.

Director: Gareth Edwards

Cast: John David Washington, Madeleine Yuna Voyles, Gemma Chan

Writers: Gareth Edwards, Chris Weitz

Nadine Whitney

Nadine Whitney holds qualifications in cinema, literature, cultural studies, education and design. When not writing about film, art or books, she can be found napping and missing her cat.

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