Director: Gareth Edwards Screenwriter: Gareth Edwards, Chris Weitz Cast: John David Washington, Gemma Chan, Ken Watanabe, Sturgill Simpson, Allison Janney Distributor: 20th Century Studios Running Time: 133 min. MPAA: PG-13

It’d be easy to go after The Creator for feeling so cliche of the sci-fi genre. It’s an action-filled picture about the dangers and humanity involved with recognizing the controversial topic of artificial intelligence. In the tradition of the sci-fi genre, this film has a lot of familiar tropes: finding love in times of uncertainty, questioning existence, playing god, cybernetic intrigue, etc. Thankfully, director Gareth Edwards has enough faith in this type of film to make those familiar themes sing well enough in a film that still favors a VFX-heavy spectacle.

The film is already engrossing for taking place not in the infancy of AI becoming a threat but after the final straw is broken. The embracement of AI changes from a convenient solution to a national threat when a nuke goes off in California. This incident separates the world into what is essentially an America paranoid enough to ban AI while the amalgamated continent of New Asia embraces AI. A war is on between these regions as America hopes to seek out and destroy the central AI creator, Nirmata.

Thrown into this conflict is Joshua (John David Washington), an undercover operative who infiltrates enemy territory and goes native when forming a romance. A trigger-happy raid results in Joshua’s fiancee and potential child being caught in the crossfire. So he’s more than a little reluctant to resume his soldier duties when another lead for Nirmata pops up. He agrees under the low possibility that his wife is still alive.

As Joshua ventures into dangerous territory, complete with America’s trillion-dollar satellite gun looming over New Asia, his mission leads him to Alphie, the first AI child. Not only is the mere presence of Alphie a life-changing development in AI tech, but she can also remotely tap into other electronics. She may even be able to dismantle America’s giant city-destroying gun if her powers continue to grow. This leads to Joshua and Alphie becoming fugitives, as the two soon form a father-son dynamic while trying to fight back against the aggressive response toward artificial intelligence.

The Creator isn’t treading into new sci-fi territory. It’s playing with very familiar themes and tropes, ranging from questioning the line between human and robot while doing so through cyberpunk-style depictions of a futuristic Asia. There’s the messy yet easy-to-read battle on New Asia’s rebelling locals huddling in huts fighting off persistent American forces that bulldoze their way through the territory. Many sci-fi films have used these ingredients; if I’m honest, others have weaved them better.

However, Gareth Edwards manages to find the heart of this story and steer with confidence. From one perspective, it proceeds on a straightforward path with an air of “I’ve heard this before.” On another level, however, Edwards exorcises his ability to manage these common sci-fi stagings sufficiently enough that I got wrapped up in the drama. There’s a sweet dialogue where Joshua and Alphie discuss aspects of the afterlife. It is a relatively simple exchange complete with poetic observation, but it still works in the delivery.

There’s no surprise that Edwards delivers a gorgeous-looking sci-fi epic, having already helmed such projects for Godzilla and Star Wars franchises. The combination of Thailand’s vast landscapes and AI characters’ tech makes for a good-looking movie. It’s a well-defined world that is so intricate yet staged in a manner where some refreshing doses of comedy are added into the mix. This ranges from Joshua’s one-liners to the American forces utilizing suicide robots that give a salute right before running into enemy territory to explode. The silliness is balanced by a fine performance of Ken Watanabe, playing an AI warrior with wise words amid an uncertain battle.

I enjoyed The Creator, even if it essentially boils down to a well-ridden path of sci-fi adventure being given a new coat of paint. But, wow, what a coat it is. The exciting spectacle is aided by a solid foundation that adheres to classic science fiction story tropes yet still makes the film more of its entity, where its writing might be familiar, but the visuals feel fresh. And I’ll gladly take Edwards venturing into foundational sci-fi rather than retread on an IP to take another stab at I, Robot or Westworld.

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