Gareth Edwards’ newest action thriller is the sci-fi blockbuster we’ve all been waiting for; but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. Set in the not-too distant future, when an accidental nuclear explosion sets Western countries on a war of extermination against AI bots—who are much more embraced by Asian countries—it’s a film that’s clearly interested in conversations of race, class, violence and imperialism. But even the trailer lets you know its plot is full of tropes. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and I actually think Edwards and co-scriptwriter Chris Weitz navigated the predictability as best as they could; but I was able to call how this movie would end before it was halfway over (which is a problem) and I found a lot of the character development to be rushed. Despite these shortcomings, the visuals here put most bigger-budget films to shame, and viewers won’t be able to help getting swept up by all the earnest emotions on display.
Like I said, tropes aren’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I think they could be used very smartly to play with audience expectations or subvert them in a way that says something about the genre itself; but Edwards and Co. don’t exactly do that here. Joshua’s lost his wife, and lives as a forgotten veteran until he’s drawn back into the conflict, eventually becoming critical of the hyperviolence used against civilians in the West’s war against AI. At no point does the plot try to stray from this well-trodden path, and at no point do we see characters’ relationships develop. Instead, everything happens almost comically fast. One minute they hate each other, then they almost die, then they’re very close. I’d even say the AI child Joshua’s initially sent to kill is more a plot device than a character with original thoughts and desires. There’s also something to be said about how the film handles race. Many scenes pull from imagery of the Vietnam War, and the film is very obviously against imperialism, but Asian countries are often seen as ‘advanced’ or ‘wise’ when it comes to technology in sci-fi, and I don’t think that trope is challenged or changed here at all. Despite such a slipshod script, the film managed to win me over because there is real emotion here. Despite Edwards and Weitz’s best efforts, we end up seeing beyond the tropes and really care about these characters. I wonder how much of this has to do with the visuals.
Many critics say this movie will change the industry; not because of its writing, but because it’s proof that you don’t need a $300M budget to create jaw dropping visual spectacles. In the case of The Creator, you don’t even need $100M. With a relatively meager budget, cinematographers Greig Fraser and Oren Soffer craft one of the best looking movies I’ve seen this year, which is even more impressive when you consider the amount of CGI that goes into a film on this scale. A lot of it has to do with the way landscapes are shot. The movie was filmed on sight, mostly in Thailand, and that choice alone does so much work as far as making us feel grounded, more willing to go along with the sloppy writing because we have such a solid visual foundation. The shots Fraser and Soffer use suit the genre they’re working with, often showing the enormous scope of Edwards’ worldbuilding with nice establishing shots, or injecting a ton of energy into the frame by switching to handheld during action sequences. In these moments, the quick-cut editing also does a great job at setting a breakneck pace. On top of this visual mastery, there’s some phenomenal acting here.
John David Washington did a great job as Joshua. His portrayal is haunted, angry even, but with something sentimental scratching just beneath the surface. He did the best with what he had; because his character wasn’t given the screen time necessary for us to really connect with him, to get to know him on a human level, it definitely feels sketched out, but that’s not for lack of effort on Washington’s part. That being said, the real star of this movie was Madeleine Yuna Voyles, making her screen debut as Alfie, an AI ‘superweapon.’ As I said, her character was little more than a plot device, but despite all regrettable writing choices, Voyles imbues a ton of humanity into her performance, impressive for any actor, let alone a debuting child actor.
I really think you should see this movie. On top of all the amazing visuals, the earthshaking sound design and the terrific acting, it’s got a ton of emotion at its heart. I love movies about humans and robots, because it ultimately makes us ask what it means to be human, and causes us to wonder if we are still human in an era so disconnected from things like community or solidarity. This movie also made me have hope for humanity; if humans created robots capable of things like joy and love and care, then we can regain those things in ourselves and those around us. Sure, it’s not exactly anything new, but it did make me think and feel a lot, and is that not what all good art should aspire to do? If you enjoyed this review, consider subscribing to the blog’s Patreon by clicking here! For just $3 per month, you can keep this blog ad-free and independent. There are also some cool benefits for those who choose to support the blog including: suggesting which movies I review, getting personalized movie recommendations, access to free giveaways and more!