In the beginning, I thought well of The Creator, to where I thought it could slip into my Ten Best of the Year list. As I thought more and more about The Creator, I realized that apart from one element, it is a very dull film that is a pastiche of other, better films.
Artificial Intelligence at first appeared to be a helpful tool for humanity. That was until AI ended up blowing up Los Angeles in a nuclear explosion. Now the remnants of the United States is at war with New Asia, which believes AI is still a source for good. Into this comes Taylor (John David Washington), an undercover military officer who is close to finding the mysterious Nirmata, the so-called Creator. Taylor is married to Maya (Genna Chan), who may have ties to Nirmata. A botched raid not only blows his cover but kills Maya and their unborn child.
Five years have passed, and Taylor is asked to help find Nirmata and destroy his superweapon, a device that will render all the American technology powerless. He agrees when he learns from Colonel Howell (Allison Janney) that Maya is still alive, and he might save her. However, that mission deep into New Asia also goes wrong, more so when he discovers that the superweapon is in the form of a child. Officially named Alpha-O (Madeleine Yuna Voyles), Taylor cannot kill it.
Now on the lam, Taylor and "Alphie" go in search of answers. Eventually captured, Taylor learns from his former simulant ally Harun (Ken Watanabe) that the war was caused by human, not AI, error. Harun also informs him that the simulants (robots in mostly human form) and robots only want to live in peace. Eventually, Taylor finds that Maya and Nirmata are one and the same. Maya is in a coma due to the attack, and Alphie is her creation based on what her and Taylor's child might have been. Taylor ends her life and now must face the wrath of his former military. Will he be able to destroy Alphie? Who will win this war?
It is difficult to see The Creator and not see other films popping in. The most obvious parallel is with Blade Runner in that it tackled similar themes: the nature of what makes one human, the dystopian world, a man of law & order possibly in love with a machine. It does not help that in the admittedly well-crafted faux-documentary footage opening, the tagline "More Human Than Human" pops up. I also saw elements of A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, Akira and Platoon rattling around The Creator.
As a side note, it strikes me as curious that people criticizing audiences for not going to The Creator are saying that its box office failure will discourage studios from funding "original properties". The truth is that The Creator is anything but original. Director and cowriter Gareth Edwards (writing with Chris Weitz) may hold that The Creator is original, but it draws too heavily from other properties to make a solid claim to originality.
The Creator is also plagued by other problems. At the top of them are the performances. Whatever one may think of John David Washington, The Creator is one of his worst performances. He is blank and emotionless throughout the film. To be fair, the script gives few people a chance to show anything other than vaguely mystical mumblings. It also asks us to be emotionally invested in a "sweeping romance" that we never got to know. However, Washington looked almost bored at times in his efforts to move the viewer.
The same goes for almost every other actor in The Creator. Again, the script gives them little to work with. Jumping ahead a little, the script almost demands people care about the various relationships when in reality we never get to know the characters. The character of Kami (Veronica Ngo), the replicant* girlfriend of Taylor's former military friend, is killed by the New Asia military when searching for Taylor and Alphie. However, it is hard to feel shocked or emotionally invested in a character whose name I did not even know until the credits.
Similarly, Watanabe's Harun keeps calling Taylor "my brother", but their interactions are so limited you wonder where this deep emotional connection came from.
Only Janney and Voyles as Colonel Howell and Alphie manage good performances. Janney has a bit of a monologue discussing how her son was killed by a replicant who had lured him into a relationship. It is curious that in that brief moment, we got more motivation and better played motivation than anything Washington did. One almost wanted to follow Howell's story rather than Taylor's. I give credit to Voyles, who managed to move the audience on occasion with her blend of innocence and wisdom.
There is a certain pomposity in The Creator, with its ponderous tone and excessive runtime of two hours and thirteen minutes. The sluggish nature of The Creator made those 133 minutes feel even longer. The pomposity extended to its three-act structure of seeing three titles on screen: Nirmata, The Child and The Mother. The filmmakers want to make The Creator into some grand epic rather than letting the film do the work. I will add briefly that I am disturbed at how the film wants me to cheer the fall of man. I wouldn't say there is something sinister in that, but I would say that I cannot celebrate the "enemy" winning.
The only aspect in The Creator that is worth anything is the visuals. The film has a lower budget than many big Marvel or DC films, yet the visual effects are better and more realistic. Granted, the MCU and DCEU seem set on being more cartoony to silly than The Creator. However, The Creator makes this look like a lived-in world. They may not astonish the viewer, but they serve the story, which is better.
The Creator is what I would call a noble failure. It wants to tackle themes of what makes one human, but I found it slow, slightly boring and terribly pompous. The overall poor performances and grim nature of the film did not help. It is indeed difficult to create, and The Creator proves it.
*The actual term in The Creator was "simulant", but to my mind, they were Blade Runner replicant knockoffs.