Twentieth Century Studios heavily markets its upcoming film, the A.I. Sci-Fi Thriller The Creator, as being directed by the same guy who helmed the thrilling Star Wars origin story, Rogue One. And while Gareth Edwards certainly deserves another look given that he arguably made one of the best Star Wars movies this side of George Lucas, The Creator only looks like that film—but it only looks that way. Nothing else from his new film, with a choppy, predictable, and mostly unoriginal script by Chris Weitz, remotely compares.
The film is set in the mid-Twenty-First Century. A news reel in the opening sequence tells in a flash the evolution of robotics, from household appliances to machines of death. One more flashy explosion later—this one atomic, over Los Angeles—and the Western World has banned A.I. and undertaken a years-long war to erase it from the Earth, against its much warmer reception in the continent of New Asia. In this world, humans exist alongside beings that are entirely machine, and those called Simulants—essentially A.I. machines with faces derived from human likeness, Mission: Impossible style.
At the center of the story is Joshua, an always likable John David Washington. Early on, we see him take sides in the war, though the ping ponging of his allegiance is enough to make even a robot’s head twist. On the American side, Alison Janney shows up as the determined Colonel Howell, who, like Joshua, has lost family in the war against the machines. Sturgill Simpson and Ralph Ineson also shows up as military buddies who scream and shout, as needed. The New Asia Simulant forces, meanwhile, include Harun (Ken Watanabe), and a Star Wars style clone played by Amar Chadha-Patel.
A mysterious, savior-like child named Alphie and played by newcomer Madeleine Yuna Voyles is an integral part of the proceedings.
The use of a cloned soldier is not the only thing that Edwards borrows liberally from the Star Wars brand. More than anything, the production design behind some of the spaceships and war machines resembles heavily the “old version of modern” vision that Star Wars is distinct for, combining oxidated metal and clunky suits with pinpoint precision lasers and beams. Greig Fraser and Oren Soffer produce a visually stunning, sweeping planetary and out of space cinematography that similarly emulate Rogue One, particularly in climatic sequences, to which Hans Zimmer’s heart-pounding but at times minimalist score heartily adds as well.
But it is the visuals and the rough outlines of the story that the comparisons between The Creator and Edwards’ last movie begin and end. More than anything, The Creator is both stunningly uninventive while telecasting what it thinks are clever plot twists and turns, devices that will fool only the most robotic of audiences.
As laid out, the story borrows heavily from the concept behind The Terminator series. That is OK as far as it goes, but it also has elements of Ex Machina, The Last of Us, and even Pacific Rim. It is an amalgam of styles and past films that never escapes its own gravitational pull, getting stuck instead in the mire of familiarity.
Also problematic is that the script is difficult to take seriously after too many, lightspeed twists and turns that make little sense and seem premised on getting you only to the grand, explosive finale. Alphie has supernatural-like powers in that she can control technology from a distance. Her skills are impressive but also not consistently used to save her and hers from danger. Joshua’s loyalties shift constantly, sometimes for no reason. Captain Howell’s motivations are telegraphed immediately, and all the characters fall into an unending sequence of purportedly dangerous situations from which they escape unscathed and with little explanation.
Sensing that his script fails to deliver a strong emotional core that would make most viewers care, Weitz (who co-writes this story with Edwards) lays it on thick with an unconvincing love story between Joshua and Maya (played by Gemma Chan) that cannot do the work that the story itself fails to do.
And while there is nothing devastatingly fatal about a cheesy love story overlaying what is, at bottom, a sci-fi thriller, you still need the story to thrill in the first place. But when illogical capture and escape sequences repeat over and over again, littering the landscape, it becomes hard to take any part of a movie seriously. And when a script resorts to platitudes such as “we are all connected” or “deep down we are all the same,” then you know it’s time to turn off this machine before it becomes sapient and ends us all.
In one final twist of irony, The Creator offers a half-hearted defense of A.I. itself. It assures us that A.I. can be programmed not to ever harm people (despite the fact that nearly all of the A.I. in this film spends the entire 2h+ runtime doing so). It also attempts to assure us that A.I. has benefits worth fighting for. Those benefits are not, say, human productivity or ending disease or hunger, and of course, given the story, they cannot include world peace. Instead, the principal argument is that A.I. can and does care for—wait for it—the children!
In their misguided attempt to propagandize the technology that recently drove the studios and the WGA apart, the filmmakers inadvertently make us like the machines less, not more, after watching The Creator. Or maybe that was the point? To make a movie with such questionable writing, that it will make us want to give artificial creation a chance? Only in Hollywood could such a sordid, twist ending be written.
The Creator Is a Twentieth Century Studios Film to be released on September 29, 2023.