I had high hopes for The Creator. The trailer telegraphed a gorgeous-looking original sci-fi movie with human themes and a character-driven story. The film itself falls short of that promise. It looks spectacular, and a lot of work went into the special effects and world-building, but the human element rarely connects, and the themes are left adrift in a script that never explores them beyond allowing them to give some background flavor.
In the future, artificial intelligence has become so advanced that AI-powered robots perform many of society’s lowly tasks, resulting in mankind delegating more and more of our responsibilities to them. But when they nuke Los Angeles, the American government declares war on them, as well as the country harboring them. Joshua (John David Washington), a former undercover agent who lost everything in the war, is brought back into action to lead a team of Special Forces commandos into the AI stronghold to kill a mysterious figure called “the Creator” and his secret weapon, something that could win the war for the AI.
You can probably tell where this is going about as well as something like Avatar. The Creator, while not an adaptation, is hardly original. You’ll be able to guess every beat of this movie before it happens, with the story playing out like a tracing rather than a sketch. Every death is telegraphed, every character arc rote, and while the film has a fast pace, it gets boring after a while. There aren’t any surprises or mystery – not good ones, anyway. The climax is stuffed to the gills with deus ex machinas, and I mean that in the strongest sense of the term; eventually, you expect Superman to show up and save the day because it would feel as consistent as the rest of the final act. That extends to things like how the machinery of this world works; an AI character can control all electronic equipment until she suddenly can’t because she needs to be threatened by a machine, just as the government’s big weapon needs to be hovering over its target until it can magically attack multiple places on Earth from one location. It’s staggering how lazy the script is.
But the argument that nothing under the sun is new has merit, and good characters can make up for familiar plot elements. (Not the finale, though; that’s too stupid.) Unfortunately, the human factor is all but empty in The Creator. A major event affects Joshua’s life in the opening scenes, informing his motivation for going on the mission later, but the background for his emotional investment in it is shown in bits and pieces throughout the film, too late to give those early scenes the resonance they need. And Joshua’s interactions with Alphie (Madeleine Yuna Voyles), the little girl robot, aren’t as affecting as they should be because you don’t get the sense that he’s growing to care for her. He just does when they need to set up the climax. The villain, played by the great Allison Janney, is probably the best-drawn character in The Creator, and that’s because she requires less development than the leads. John David Washington, who I quite liked in Tenet, shows little humanity as Joshua, seemingly emoting only when it’s convenient for the plot, and at that point, it’s hollow. However, Voyles is actually quite good as Alphie, playing her like a little girl trying to understand the world and bringing humanity to artificial intelligence.
But the movie lets her down, which is another problem with The Creator. It brings up a lot of potentially fascinating themes, but it never follows through on any of them. The idea of AI being human, for example, is a good one, especially in a story like this, and there are instances where it’s demonstrated in subtle and effective ways – Alphie liking ice cream, robot soldiers watching holograms of robot strippers, a human and a robot in love. But it never comes to the fore like it needs to, particularly with Joshua. A better screenplay would have had him slowly begin to see the machines as human, Alphie in particular. But there’s no buildup; he just turns suddenly at the introduction of another obvious plot “twist,” so his arc feels like it was tacked on instead of instrumental to his journey. Early on, we’re told that the AI robots worship the Creator like a god, something that could have gone a long way towards making them feel human and giving them some more character, but it’s never mentioned again. It’s tempting to think a movie celebrating AI is intentionally removing the humanity from itself, but I think that’s being too generous.
The Creator isn’t a terrible movie, though, and parts of it are great. Visually, it’s magnificent, with amazing special effects that never feel like CGI, even though they must be. The robotic features of the AI characters feel like they’re a physical part of the actors rather than something added in post, and that allows you to buy into the reality of this world. The action scenes are similarly realistic (in terms of science-fiction), with ship crashes and flying missiles feeling like tactile events; the streaks of fire following missiles are perfectly rendered and create a sense of suspense the script never does, and the smashing of metal hits you in the chest like you’re witnessing a real car wreck. (The score, however, is dull, sounding like every about a million others.) And the robot drones – the ones that don’t have faces – move and interact with their surroundings believably. The designs of various locations are reminiscent of older movies – the interior of a large ship looks remarkably like that of the Nostromo from Alien, and an AI-friendly city has a lot of Blade Runner in it – but they work, and the world of The Creator is always alive. It’s worth seeing once just to get a look at these visuals.
But you probably won’t want to see it again. The Creator had a ton of potential, but the script wasn’t there, and it’s hard to invest in the characters or the story when they’re just jumping from A to B with seemingly no propulsion. The result is a beautifully rendered sci-fi world that has nothing human to offer beyond a string of ideas that are suggested but never examined.