While watching The Creator, I couldn’t help but think of Kevin Feige’s hilarious comments about Chloé Zhao’s work on The Eternals. He’s been so Volume™-pilled that he may or may not have forgotten how the outside works and that films can — stick with me here — actually shoot on location instead of in front of a green screen.
It’s a sign we are in the darkest timeline that those in charge of the industry quite literally need to touch grass, but you get the sense while watching The Creator that this could change possibly change moving forward.
Perhaps the most astounding piece of The Creator is that it cost a reported $80 million. Compare that to the reported $300 million budget of The Flash and your head might explode. (How does something almost entirely composed of garish, rubbery CGI cost nearly quadruple to make? That math doesn’t math.) For Gareth Edwards, who made two of the better-looking blockbusters of the 2010s in Godzilla (2014) and Rogue One, it’s not particularly shocking that his latest movie would be a technical marvel, but comparing his work to the rapidly declining high-budget work in the industry does point to how much better the output can be, and that, no matter how much money The Creator ends up making in its theatrical run, it can serve as a template for how to produce beautiful, expansive spectacles without needing to recoup $2 billion to make it worthwhile.
In addition to using a new, low-cost camera instead of renting a majorly expensive IMAX camera, the production used guerrilla filmmaking techniques, shooting on location with small crews while taking advantage of natural light. It wasn’t until after a cut of the film was finalized that visual effects were layered into the image.
The result is absolutely stunning. Edwards has always been an amazing image maker. The world of The Creator is highly-considered, lived-in, and tactile. Each sci-fi element, while clearly borrowing from classics of the genre, has its unique spin. Specifically, the hulking NOMAD floating military base that lurks over the entire planet in search of A.I. enemies. Edwards and cinematographer Oren Soffer understand how to provide a sense of scale — landscapes and ships engulf the characters and add a dramatic sense of grandeur.
Notice that I haven’t provided a synopsis thus far. Or, mentioned star John David Washington. Edwards’s Achilles’ heel is his scripts, whether he has a writing credit or not. Especially when it comes to Rogue One, in which Tony Gilroy needed to step in to salvage the project. The Creator is made up of some of the most rehashed sci-fi tropes. In the fall-out of a nuclear bomb attack reportedly caused by A.I. that destroyed Los Angeles, the U.S. military is attempting to eradicate A.I. from the planet altogether. Washington’s Joshua is sent to New Asia — a place where humans and robots live in peace — where the A.I.’s secret weapon is reportedly housed. The weapon turns out to be a child A.I. (Madeleine Yuna Voyles), and, naturally, she holds the key to the universe.
The Creator boils down to another “action man must protect child” story, with half-baked, rejected Blade Runner ideas layered on top. Given all the talk of A.I. in the news, including the months-long writer’s strike, the film could have been prescient. Which makes it so strange that The Creator positions humanity as the scourge to be destroyed. The intention was most likely to express that humanity should learn to live with A.I. and embrace how it could enhance our existence, but that is not how it comes across. Having the robots (or “simulants”, as the film calls them) all be Asian characters adds an additional element of othering that muddles what The Creator is ultimately trying to say as well. I’m convinced that, with his visual prowess, Edwards could make an all-time film. He might just need to partner with a better screenwriter to get there.
Edwards’ storytelling is very sincere, which occasionally does a disservice to John David Washington as he has to earnestly deliver stilted dialogue. I have JDW season tickets, but this script isn’t a perfect match for his wise-cracking charisma, though he does once again show off that he’s a fantastic physical screen presence in the film’s marvelous set pieces.
Much has been made of the fact that The Creator is an original blockbuster. I’d argue that there isn’t much “original” content in this script, but the point is valid in a big-budget ecosystem that subsists almost entirely on Marvel mush. Still, it shouldn’t be graded on the curve for that reason. The film is unequivocally a mixed bag. But, hopefully, the industry can take the correct lessons away from it and usher in a new era of sensibly made, accomplished blockbusters.
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