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film review
  • The Creator
  • Directed by Gareth Edwards
  • Written by Gareth Edwards and Chris Weitz
  • Starring John David Washington, Gemma Chan and Allison Janney
  • Classification PG; 133 minutes
  • Opens in theatres Sept. 29

Critic’s Pick

There are a solid half-dozen moments during the new sci-fi thriller The Creator in which your head might explode. These are all welcome acts of cranial combustion, by the way – imagination-popping instances in which director Gareth Edwards thrills and seduces, his (mostly) original vision of a future gone to rot as fully realized in its world-building as it is pulse-pounding in its action.

But the film’s biggest mind-blower might arrive long after Edwards’s film ends. That is when, after inspired by the production to do some light research, you might discover that the spectacle – beautiful and grand and epic – somehow cost about US$20-million less than the cinematic tripe that is the Expend4bles. And at least US$100-million less than the sloppy CGI spectacle of the latest Marvel offering.

How exactly Edwards accomplished this – by keeping his crew guerilla-level tight when filming in real locations, instead of filling soundstages with hundreds – is less important than why the director chose to make this film in the first place. Because even if The Creator cost as much as five Infinity Wars, the movie arrives as a kind of priceless artifact in the current Hollywood landscape. This is an original proposition, not based on a comic book or novel or theme-park ride. There is no franchise-bred fan base propping up its potential, no spinoff or prequel to immediately pivot to in case things don’t work out. The film is, as far as contemporary studio thinking goes, a gamble. And it pays off wonderfully.

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The Creator takes place in a world much like our own, albeit with crucial advances in technology arriving earlier than in our history. By the 1960s in Edwards’s world, robots have already become domesticated servants. Soon enough, artificial intelligence has enabled machines to advance by leaps and bounds, to the point that AI apparently decided it can do better than humanity, nuking Los Angeles to a crisp, Skynet-style. By the year 2065, the United States has banned AI and committed to hunting the machines down across the world, including the republic of New Asia, where bots are welcomed with open organic-flesh arms.

Which is where black-ops soldier Josh (John David Washington) is stationed at the beginning of the film, undercover with a gang of robot sympathizers as he tries to suss out the location of the AI’s mastermind. But then Josh loses his pregnant wife Maya (Gemma Chan) in an operation gone wrong, and has taken to popping pills and drowning his sorrows. Which means it’s time for one last mission/shot at redemption, with Josh asked by his military overlords to seek out and destroy a powerful new AI weapon that New Asia has developed.

The problem: that weapon turns out to be a young robot girl (Madeleine Yuna Voyles), who stirs up long-dormant parental feelings in Josh. With the U.S. military on his trail – mostly in the form of the steel-eyed commander Howell (Allison Janney, in full Aliens-era Sigourney Weaver badass mode) – Josh and his new robot child must find a way to end the war before mutual self-destruction ends the world.

So, yes, this “original” tale is really a collection of bits and pieces from the Terminator movies, Blade Runner, Children of Men, Akira, Apocalypse Now (Robopocalypse Now?), and a whole lotta Spielberg (from E.T. to A.I.). But the homages that Edwards and his co-writer Chris Weitz make are honest, and instead of stealing the best ideas of other films, The Creator uses them as the source code to create a next-generation story that is pure, foot-on-the-gas entertainment.

Edwards, who brought a surprisingly dark and human edge to 2014′s Godzilla (and whose troubles making a war movie out of the Star Wars universe are well documented in any background reading on 2016′s Rogue One), is a passionate scholar of sci-fi filmmaking. The film’s set-pieces are gripping, the pace relentlessly slick and the world-building so detailed as to benefit from (but not require) footnotes.

And the futurism is all grounded by bedrock-solid performances. Not only from Washington – who proves that his stoic gravitas from Tenet can be easily transferred to other films – but also a hard-edged Janney and tender work from the young Yuna Voyles in a role that could go off the rails into maudlin shtick. (If you are a parent, though, there is an approx. 85-per-cent chance that you will leave the film a teary mess.)

Not to say that the film is close to standing next to any of its many inspirations. The characters tend toward sketches: Josh’s deep-cover past is barely scratched at; Maya is a beautiful ghost projected through flashbacks; and Howell is simply an immovable object who meets Josh’s unstoppable force. And while the film’s relentless momentum is an asset – an extraction leads to a chase which leads to a faceoff which leads to a countdown – some of the details of Edwards’s world get muddled in the race. There’s lunar travel in this reality, too? America has a giant missile defence system that can just enter other country’s air space without sparking nuclear strikes? Wait, has there ever in the history of action cinema been a hero named … Josh?

Ultimately, these are quibbles – barely there speed bumps along a thrilling, imaginative, carefully routed journey. And all for a fraction of the typical cost. The Creator is a true bargain of a blockbuster.

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