In the near future, when AI causes a nuclear warhead to detonate in L.A., the West bans the technology as a threat to human life. But New Asians continue to embrace it, viewing it as a form of evolution. Joshua (John David Washington), a special forces ex-commando, who lost his wife Maya (Gemma Chan) in a Western attack while undercover in the East, is lured back 5 years later by Colonel Howell (Allison Janney) when she shows him holographic footage with Maya still alive. His mission? To find New Asia’s weapon capable of controlling all technology and the architect who built it, “The Creator.”
Laura's Review: B-
Cowriter (with his "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" collaborator Chris Weitz)/director Gareth Edwards’ ("Monsters") stab at an epic sci-fi extravaganza is an odd futuristic look at the U.S. refighting the Vietnam War with AI instead of northern Communists as their target within a story that feels like its been told before. There are really no surprises in store for how things will work out from the rather obvious identity of The Creator, the underhanded tactics of U.S. military officers and an ending seen in too many super hero movies to mention. That the weapon turns out to be a child-by-way-of-technology is an all too simple argument for AI’s beneficial ability to end violence, the potential negative impact of the child’s growing command of her powers as she ages left unaddressed, perhaps as an opening for a sequel.
What the film does have is impressive production design (James Clyne, “Avatar’s” art department and conceptual art) and special effects, most of which were created after the live action had been shot, the same approach Edwards used with his first, low budget film. A.I. ‘simulents,’ like the child Alphie (Madeleine Yuna Voyles) and Harun (Ken Watanabe), sent to save her, have cores through their heads which allow us to see right through them, interior metal rolling to indicate processing. Robotic Asian ‘police’ have heads that look like a cross between Sony Discmans and rice paddy hats. The U.S. Military deploys something called Nomad, a city-sized boomerang in the sky which drops deadly missiles, like the one Joshua believes killed his wife, as well as enormous tanks which crush everything in their path (shades of “Avatar”) and robotic bombs that look like R2D2 if it had had arms and legs and ran. You won’t be able to watch U.S. soldiers invade a New Asia village looking for The Creator’s laboratory (one soldier threatens a little girl’s puppy and another finds a hatch leading underground) without thinking of the Vietnam War.
If the story’s sci-fi elements don’t feel fresh, it does work emotionally, Joshua forming an attachment to the innocent Alphie, just as Drew (Sturgill Simpson, "The Hunt"), the friend he left behind who now works on sims and who Joshua turns to for help, mourns the loss of his female companion lost while trying to protect Alphie. The overarching theme of the film is actually love, as Joshua’s only motivation for his mission is to find his lost wife, and Washington makes the yearning for her and his paternal feelings for Alphie palpable. But even these emotional currents can be found in such sci-fi films as “Blade Runner.” There’s even a dash of “The Golden Child” in there.
“The Creator” entertains, but it isn’t anything new, Edwards’ ability to create a large scale epic without a blockbuster budget perhaps its most innovative element.
20th Century Studios releases "The Creator" in theaters on 9/29/23.