We won’t reprise the various shenanigans that clogged up the production of Rogue One, but, when all was tidied away, Gareth Edwards’s film ended up among the most admired effusions of Disney’s ongoing exploitation of Star Wars mythology. That film did, however, still play as if a few too many hands had been on the tiller.
The director of 2010′s fine Monsters and the surprisingly dull 2012 take on Godzilla here gets back in stride with one of the most beautiful science-fiction epics of recent decades. Made for about a third of the Rogue One budget, The Creator comes across as a tribute to the artists who decorated science-fiction paperback covers from the 1950s through to the 1980s. It show the workings of a risky imagination, but it is also deeply rooted in the tradition.
We begin with a summation of recent future history. It’s an old yarn. It’s the Terminator yarn. Humans allow artificial intelligence to enter every aspect of their lives. Eventually, Sorcerer’s Apprentice Syndrome sets in and machines cause the annihilation of Los Angeles (or do they?) The United States outlaws AI, but other countries are not so quick to turn back the clock. A community of AI humanoids move about southeast Asia while the US plots their mass destruction. No quarter is given. Directing operations from a giant space station, the security forces are content to annihilate AI villages with the touch of a button.
Okay, the political analogies here, though apt and inarguable, are thumpingly on the nose. You won’t be surprised to hear there are constant reminders of the western response to the attacks of September 11th, 2001. The allusions to the Vietnam war would be unmistakable even if events weren’t apparently unfolding not far from the Mekong Delta. As is too often the case with such things, the reimaginings gesture to their sources without adding much insight. Nor does the film bring a wealth of fresh takes to the question of whether artificial consciousness can compare with its organic counterpoint. We meet sentient machines. They seem as sensitive as fleshy humans. Nobody produces any Turing-adjacent detection apparatus.
No matter. Though shallow in its philosophies, The Creator tells a cracking tale at breakneck speed among the most captivating environments. John David Washington plays Joshua, a special forces agent who, grieving his wife, is sent into enemy territory to kill the mysterious Creator – mythical progenitor of the AI – and retrieve a secret weapon that threatens to win the war for the machines.
As Joshua and his grunty team, ultimately led by an impressively nimble Allison Janney, head into enemy territory, it is impossible not to think of James Cameron’s Aliens, but, in pre-release material, Edwards has also paid tribute to the gentler influence of Peter Bogdanovich’s Paper Moon. It doesn’t take too long for Jason to discover the weapon is in the person of a wise child (Madeleine Yuna Voyles), and, like the characters in the Bogdanovich film, agent and charge find themselves bonding as they light out for the territories. Never forget that Creatures, Edwards’s first film, was as much a romantic road movie as a horror flick.
The Creator sticks to a strong, pulpy narrative that never lets up in pace. There are vast action sequences and intimate, scruffy fight scenes. The film is, however, as memorable for its cinematic texture as its twists and turns. Location work adds to the hyperreality. The martial technology is alternately sleek and – the walking bombs stand out – deliberately absurd. A soundtrack that veers from Deep Purple to Radiohead roots us firmly on an outer moon of the nerdosphere. At times one feels too many influences crowding the scene (did we mention Apocalypse Now yet?). But it is easy to forgive when the wider package is so consistently satisfying. Deserves to be a smash.
Opens on September 28th