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“The Creator” Lacks a Plan

Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | September 28th, 2023

Film poster: “The Creator”

The Creator (Gareth Edwards, 2023) 1 out of 4 stars.

The only thing worse than watching a film where none of the characters resonate is watching that very kind of film filled with scenes of unearned emotional bleating. The more the filmmakers strive to pull on our heartstrings, the less we care, so flimsy is the setup and so one-dimensional the protagonists. In The Creator, co-writer and director Gareth Edwards (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) proves, once again, that the only movie of real cinematic power he has so far made is his (truly great) 2010 debut, Monsters. In his case, less is very much more.

In this latest, the Earth (or part of it) is filled with androids, their presence threatening to the American-led coalition that fights to eradicate them. There’s a reason for such animosity: 10 years prior to the story, Los Angeles was wiped out in a nuclear explosion. Shades of The Terminator, anyone?

Still from THE CREATOR. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios ©2023 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

Yes and no. In a short-but-sweet opening faux-archival montage, Edwards walks us through an alternate history where artificial intelligence (AI) was developed years ago, allowing for robots of increasing complexity that eventually morphed into the humanoid figures of the present. What remains a mystery, throughout—and not of the thrilling variety—is what role these AI beings fulfill and why the anti-American populace, here problematically represented by “New Asia,” would die for them.

As we encounter the androids, they are alternatingly sweet, loving, ornery, wise, not-so-wise, and effectively just simulants of the human model. In New Asia, the AI live among the regular folks, neither better nor worse, just co-existing with everyone else. While that’s wonderful as a metaphor for diversity and inclusion, the lack of a clear raison d’être, or the why of it all, undercuts any narrative urgency that Edwards and his co-scenarist, Chris Weitz (Operation Finale), might hope to achieve.

John David Washington in THE CREATOR. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios ©2023 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

At the center of it all is Joshua (John David Washington, Tenet), an American operative in love with Maya (Gemma Chan, Eternals), who is from the other side. After a prologue that tragically separates them, Joshua descends into depression, until a battalion commander, Colonel Howell (Allison Janney, I, Tonya) approaches him with new intel about Maya’s whereabouts, hoping to lure Joshua back into the fold. Their mission is to hunt the shadowy “creator,” who has ostensibly fabricated a new AI “weapon” that could tilt the war in New Asia’s favor. Simultaneously skeptical and hopeful, he signs on.

One of the movie’s strongest elements, visually and thematically, is the way it draws parallels from the actions on screen to past imperial interventions by the United States into conflicts like the Vietnam War. Nevertheless, after the umpteenth shot of missiles plunging into rice paddies, we get it. The allusion is clear. Now do something with it.

Gemma Chan in THE CREATOR. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios ©2023 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

The world-building is a mess. Beyond the question of AI’s purpose lie many more about their evolution. It seems the titular creator has developed a child AI (eventually known as Alphie and played by Madeleine Yuna Voyles). Will the kid grow and develop into an adult? If so, how? Magic is not a good enough answer.

There are so many missed opportunities to say something meaningful using the basic premise. But in the annals of stories about the worth and identity of artificial beings, this one falls desperately flat, despite the copious use of tears and special effects. And though the large ensemble—which includes the capable Ken Watanabe (Bel Canto)—tries mightily to make something of the many competing dramatic elements, no amount of effort can rescue the tale from the black hole at its core into which all sense of lasting meaning vanishes.

Madeleine Yuna Voyles in THE CREATOR. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios ©2023 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator, as well as Film Festival Today's Editor. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, Chris is, in addition, lead film critic at Hammer to Nail and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice.

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