Spectacular visuals not enough to lift suspenseless sci-fi tale 'The Creator'
"The Creator" -- ★ ★
With nary a whit of wit, fun, awe, wonder or suspense, Gareth Edwards' generic sci-fi action tale "The Creator" plods through 133 minutes of retina-arresting scenes evoking faint memories of better films.
Although John David Washington plays the main character, an ex-special forces soldier named Joshua, the real star of "The Creator" would be production designer James Clyne and his team, responsible for some spectacular world-building visuals glimpsing what our near future might look like in 2060.
Oh, wait. Not exactly.
In "The Creator," everyone, even the military, uses old-fashioned landline phones with cords. This sort of retro-futurism works in something like Terry Gilliam's political fantasy "Brazil." But in a meat-and-potatoes sci-fi war movie like this one, it feels lazy and unchallenging.
The year 2060 may only be 37 years down the road, but think of how technology takes exponential leaps every decade. How would those leaps probably shape future communications? Warfare? Population growth? The job market with AI humanoid robots becoming a new immigration problem?
Not on this movie's agenda.
"The Creator," co-written, co-produced and directed by Edwards, dodges cerebral speculation like this, preferring to rely on shootings, explosions, deadly cliches and perfunctory dialogue in yet one more movie inspired by Mary Shelley's tale about a manufactured humanoid who seems to possess greater humanity than its regular flesh-and-blood counterparts.
Earlier this year, "Mission: Impossible -- Dead Reckoning Part 1" initiated what will undoubtedly soon be a staple Hollywood boogeyman -- artificial intelligence. "The Creator" uses AI as a default villain, but with a twist.
Allison Janney plays Colonel Jean Howell, the crusty military official who dispatches Washington's Joshua on a mission of life and death -- for humans.
He must find and destroy a sinister entity known as The Creator, the mastermind behind legions of AI soldiers now at war with their human manufacturers.
The surprise? (It's already been ruined by press releases and trailers.) After he and his fellow soldiers cross into enemy territory, Joshua discovers the secret weapon of the AI forces is ... a cute and lovable tiny girl (newcomer Madeleine Yuna Voyles).
"This is crazy!" Joshua says later in the movie, but it fits here nicely.
Normally, a hardened military man would simply terminate the target and go home.
But Joshua still mourns the death of his wife, Maya (Gemma Chan), and his unborn baby, so maybe that's why he disobeys orders and takes the time to get to know this darling little AI secret weapon. He even gives her a name -- Alphie.
What's it all about, Alphie?
The relationship between Joshua and Alphie supplies "The Creator" with limited empathy for its characters. Washington has not quite developed the connectional transparency of his actor father, Denzel Washington, and his interactions with young Voyles do not play out with the level of emotional payoff this movie needs.
Meanwhile, Janney -- a tested actress of depth and range -- does what she can with her leaden, imperative dialogue, such as "Find it!" and "You know what you have to do -- Kill it!"
Reuniting with his "Godzilla" director Edwards, Ken Watanabe turns in the film's most grounded and engaging performance as Harun, an AI "simulant" on a mission to eliminate Joshua and capture Alphie.
The best visual joke in "The Creator"? The subtle suggestion that AI humanoids might actually be smarter than humans.
Even with literal holes in their heads.
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Starring: John David Washington, Allison Janney, Madeleine Yuna Voyles, Gemma Chan, Ken Watanabe
Directed by: Gareth Edwards
Other: A 20th Century Studios release. Rated PG for language, violence. 133 minutes