It’s been a couple of days since I saw an early screening of THE CREATOR, and I’ve needed that time to think about it. THE CREATOR is a stunningly gorgeous film, filled with wonderful actors and beautiful scenery that blends real-world locations and special effects, but all that isn’t enough to make it a good movie. The story takes far too many leaps of logic while pushing a narrative that feels like it’s straight out of a “SCI-FI FOR DUMMIES” book.
I’m at odds with how to grade this film because there is so much good about it, but the bad is also very bad. We, the American moviegoers, don’t get nearly enough original theatrical science fiction. Studios literally want more STAR WARS, more superhero sequels, and more reboots of old IPs like the ALIEN or TERMINATOR franchises. Every once in a while, we get something like INTERSTELLAR or ARRIVAL, big-budget, original science fiction films that become blockbusters and win the accolades of critics. In the smaller-budget/indie realm, films like Alex Garland’s ANNIHILATION and EX-MACHINA have shined. For every one of these mentioned above, there are travesties like MOONFALL, PASSENGERS, or GEOSTORM. THE CREATOR is a film I want to succeed because if it fails, the studios will cancel other original science fiction films in development, and we’ll get another reboot of some beloved movie from our childhood.
John David Washington has built an impressive resume since starring in BLACKKKLANSMAN in 2018. Even in films that haven’t always impressed audiences, like TENET or AMSTERDAM, his performances have proven he’s more than just the son of a Hollywood elite. His turn as Joshua in THE CREATOR is no different. Joshua’s story is often muddled with tech jargon and timelines that make absolutely zero sense. Still, Washington shows how great a hero he can be, giving nuance to a character who never feels fully fleshed out.
Newcomer Madeleine Yuna Voyles portrays the mysterious AI simulation (or sim) named Alfie. She may only be nine years old (and apparently was seven during filming), but she’s incredibly talented and feels experienced beyond her years. This was her feature film debut, but should she choose to continue acting, I believe she could have a long and successful career ahead of her.
Sci-fi fans like myself have started to largely embrace directors who are bringing back practical effects in place of solely digital ones as of late. THE CREATOR largely depends on digital effects, but the costumes, set designs, music, and cinematography are as impressive as OPPENHEIMER. I never felt the digital backgrounds and effects were too much. It reminded me a lot of OBLIVION from a decade ago, another film that’s prettier than it is good. So where does this film go wrong, you might be asking? It’s hard to explain without spoilers, but I will do my best.
Have you ever watched a film or TV show and been annoyed when someone is standing on the streets of a well-known city, and they turn a corner, and now they’re suddenly hundreds or thousands of miles away, but there’s no mention of it? This is a longtime pet peeve of mine, and it was amplified by several illogical transitions of bad location mixing. Most of the film takes place in “New Asia,” a conglomerate of Asian countries in the near future that has banded together. Characters are shown to be able to quickly and easily travel via road between points that are 2,000+ miles apart. Adding to the problems, characters speak various Southeast Asian languages, but when the film shows title cards (which it does often), they feature Japanese, a language not spoken in the movie. The entire “New Asia” setting felt like white writers making the thousands of Asian communities into one monolith. It’s not only awkward but, frankly, kind of offensive.
In the future depicted in THE CREATOR, many things are different from our life in 2023. Our current reality is that we’ve seen just a little of what AI can do, and many real-world people are terrified of it. THE CREATOR takes us on a journey to find “the creator” of this AI, and when the truth was finally revealed, I was flabbergasted about how lazy the “twist” was. Not only had I known from the first five minutes of the movie how it would turn out, but given the story’s timeframe and the ages of the characters in the film, it’s such an implausible leap in logic. I was so frustrated with this as the story hit its crescendo that I didn’t even have time to be mad when the film attempted to pull my heartstrings with unearned emotion.
Then there’s the supporting cast that includes Allison Janney’s Colonel Howell and Ken Watanabe’s Harun. Two incredible actors wasted on characters so shallow I had to remind myself not to shake a fist at the screen. I haven’t even touched on the many mixed messages the film gives us, and honestly, it would take me another two pages. Screenwriters Gareth Edwards (who also directed) and Chris Weitz seemingly want to tell us that American imperialism in Asia was/is bad. They’re absolutely right, but the execution is so heavy-handed, and it’s jumbled with messages about morality, parenthood, and the core of the film: Can humanity co-exist with AI?
THE CREATOR borrows heavily from the films that inspired it: BLADE RUNNER, THE TERMINATOR, DISTRICT 9, but it never comes close to reaching their heights. Don’t let the pretty exterior fool you when the inside is a cluttered mess.
THE CREATOR premieres only in cinemas on September 29, 2023.