THE CREATOR is proof that you can have a ginormous budget, an accomplished lead, and a director who knows his way around special effects, and you can still have a misbegotten movie if the script is a dud. That’s evidenced throughout this new sci-fi adventure film about a futuristic soldier tasked with destroying a world-changing weapon who just so happens to be a robot designed to look like a 10-year-old girl. As he changes his tune and becomes her protector, the film seems to hold the promise of a blend of THE LAST OF US and EX MACHINA. Unfortunately, a fairly simple premise becomes overwrought all too quickly by wanting to be too many other films too, everything from BLADE RUNNER to APOCALYPSE NOW. By the end of the movie, THE CREATOR has blended in so many conceits from so many other better films that it has become a frenetic mix of too many ideas and too little originality. And you know what they say about mixing too many colors on the palette? You get mud. Well, THE CREATOR is one very muddy film.
The story concerns a war between humans and AIs where it seems that our advanced robots have tried to eradicate the population of Los Angeles by setting off a nuclear bomb in the heart of the city. Years later, the metropolis is coming back, but the United States has outlawed AI and resorted to a world war fighting any country that continues to employ it. Right off the bat, THE CREATOR feels too much like THE TERMINATOR, I, ROBOT, and WESTWORLD, let alone a dozen other films. Writer/ director Gareth Edwards and co-screenwriter Chris Weitz seem to think that the more they mix in, everything from DISTRICT 9 to INCEPTION to A.I.: ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE, the more fascinating their movie will become. Instead, it just feels wildly derivative and even more wildly out of control.
Stemming from that war on AI, the CIA’s undercover agent Joshua (John David Washington) is hoping to discover an apparent secret AI weapon being developed somewhere in the Pacific Rim. His mission is to find it and destroy it, but he compromises his job by falling for the woman he’s trailing, a scientist who might be part of the team of inventors. Her name is Maya (Gemma Chan) and she’s pregnant with Joshua’s child as well. Of course, Joshua’s mission goes awry, Maya appears to be killed, and he’s ordered by his superior Colonel Howell (Allison Janney) to keep searching, despite his bad judgment and wounds suffered in the skirmish. (He’s lost an arm and leg, replaced by, you guessed it, robotics.)
After an extended search through Asia, Joshua finds the weapon and it’s gussied up in the guise of a child (Madeleine Yuna Voyles). “Alphie”, as Joshua calls her, is a very Zen kid and prone to philosophical commentary about the world way beyond her ‘youth.’ Joshua takes sympathy on her plight and switches sides, vowing to protect this weapon designed to eliminate the human resistance’s Skynet-style protection. The rest of the film showcases our duo on the run as they try to keep out of the US military’s clutches. A cacophony of destruction and death gets left in their wake for the better part of an hour as the film seemingly takes the position that all such mayhem is acceptable as long as Joshua doesn’t kill or dismantle the AI he’s sheltering.
The film starts to feel like the entire oeuvre of Michael Bay crammed into the remaining hour as it becomes an endless parade of explosions and vicious battle scenes. So much Asian property is destroyed that the film starts to play like a Vietnam allegory, as it borrows heavily from too many war movies from the past 40 years. The film also turns rather unseemly as the child robot is constantly being threatened with death and damage, narrowly escaping one vicious set piece after another.
After the umpteenth bomb was dropped, I lost interest in the plight of these two and was soured by all the excess violence and derivation. Especially confounding is the fact that the film wholly sides with the AIs in the fight, a message that I’m sure the WGA and anyone who’s lost their job to a machine will just adore. Alas, poor humans, I knew thee well.
Washington does little more than huff and puff in a panic in every scene. (Most of his dialogue seems to consist of exclaiming, “Oh shit!”) Voyles does have a presence and she wisely underplays her role, but her character isn’t nearly as adorable as the filmmakers think she is. And any auspices of a character study quickly is trumped by all the carnage plopping about around them.
I walked out of THE CREATOR thinking of all the smaller, better films about real people that we could care about that could’ve been made rather than spent on all this excess. This is a film about AIs that feels like it was written by AI, and for a film that dares to call itself THE CREATOR, it’s a title that sits there as both insulting and rich with irony.