The Creator is one of the most visually impressive science fiction movies I have ever seen. After years of Hollywood giving us rushed, incomplete, unconvincing CGI, the film delivers an absolute special effects knockout. The movie’s artificial intelligence robots look completely real. As do the advanced technology and large-scale settings that populate the futuristic world of the film. It’s hard to see the proverbial seams between VFX, actual actors, and practical effects. And if The Creator‘s story and dialogue were even half as good as its aesthetics it would be a truly great sci-fi entry. Unfortunately they’re not even close to that, and they result in an entertaining but frustrating tale bogged down by trite concepts, underdeveloped and underutilized ideas, and a clunky script.
The Creator from writer-director Gareth Edwards (Rogue One) is worth watching simply because the film looks that good. It’s the kind of top-notch spectacle that reminds you why some movies deserve the biggest screen possible. The film’s Earth of 2065 is also a fully realized one that is compelling to explore even if the story being told within it isn’t. It’s a place where true artificial intelligence has led to all-out war between A.I.-hating America and A.I.-embracing “New Asia.” Edwards fully fleshes out this dangerous sci-fi realm with a deft combination of macro and micro world-building elements. (The many smaller details that populate The Creator will make rewatches especially rewarding.) Together those aspects make the movie an immersive experience that is easy to get lost in.
At least it is when no one is talking, because far too often The Creator suffers from dialogue that is heavy-handed, cliché, or downright hokey. Eye-rolling lines constantly ruin the film’s immersive qualities. And those lines happen way too much in a movie where the rest of the dialogue is rarely great and usually mediocre. None of its attempts at humor work, either. Cutting out any and all “levity” from The Creator would be an improvement.
As for its explorations of A.I., imperialism, the United States’ military industrial complex, and what it means to have a soul, there’s nothing new here, either. The story—centered around the hunt for both the robot’s human god (Nirmata) and the robot savior (a special, powerful robot child/weapon named Alfie)—doesn’t delve into anything you haven’t seen or read many times before. That would be fine, except there’s little to no variation on what those ideas could mean. Ultimately all of the movie’s themes feels trite and uninspired.
The plot always goes exactly where you think it’s headed, too. And the few times it seems like it might head somewhere original and interesting it either doesn’t or simply glosses over a tantalizing concept. For a movie that combines so many inherently rich storytelling genres—it’s part love story, part redemption tale, an anti-war screed, a reflection on the role of technology in our lives, a religious allegory, and a story of acceptance—The Creator plays it frustratingly safe.
Fortunately the movie’s stellar cast saves the script from totally sinking the movie. Lead star John David Washington, along with Gemma Chan, Ken Watanabe, and Sturgill Simpson, all give compelling, believable performances. Allison Janney also stands out as an aggrieved mother and soldier intent on destroying A.I. forever. Young Madeleine Yuna Voyles, the kid robot at the heart of the film, delivers just that. Alfie is responsible for most of the movie’s true moments of pathos. (Unfortunately the script also saddles her with some of the cringiest lines.)
If that sounds like an uneven, frustrating movie that’s exactly what it is. The Creator would be a much better film if it cut 80% of its dialogue. It excels when no one is speaking. It would also be far more interesting and compelling if it wasn’t so predictable and tread very familiar ground.. And yet, when the credits rolled on the film I was glad I’d seen it. If nothing else it’s incredible to look at. I liked spending time in a world where robots feel as real as people. The problem is when the credits rolled I was also glad it was over. It’s not fun spending time with people who speak like robots.