Eye For Film >> Movies >> The Creator (2023) Film Review
Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson
In The Lesson author JM Galbraith uses a version of the phrase "Good artists copy, great artists steal." That's an aphorism that's so often borrowed that attributions to Picasso and Eliot obscure that it was William Henry Davenport Adams writing about Tennyson. Art has antecedents, that's the notion, "that great poets imitate and improve, whereas small ones steal and spoil." Gareth Edwards and his team are definitely doing the former.
Detail abounds. Glorious detail, stuff that made me immediately mindful of art by Simon Stahlenhag and Ian McQue, of Syd Mead, of the innumerable artists who have drawn Judge Dredd's Mega-City One. There are planes and trains and autonomous mobiles, guns and gadgets and faces and forms. I was reminded inevitably of Star Wars. The posters say "from the director of Rogue One" but that's easier than saying "a notional science-fictional apparatus for adventure based upon an unceasing filmic bricolage". Even a font, one specific somewhat sans serif rounding, the letters "us army" on a gigantic land ironclad that for some will have echoes of Fern Gully and for others will remind them very specifically of Steve Jackson's OGREs or Keith Laumer's BOLOs. The massive tracked war-engine, that is, the font is something else, it's the trade dress of the inaccurately kind, a consideration of collateral that's diminishing the wrong kind of damage. It reminded me of Edward Tufte writing about the use of Powerpoint in the Pentagon, of any number of bits of 1960s and 1970s science fiction that I've bought secondhand with covers by Chris Foss. It might even be the font that appears on some volumes of Asimov or editions of Analog with robot stories in them, now that I think about it.
And think about it I shall. I will owe my editor at least one cake for this, no lie, but films I felt referenced by geography or politics (close cousins) or plot or architecture or really cool noises include: 2001, Ad Astra, Alphaville, Akira, Apocalypse Now, Avalon, Blade Runner (and 2049), The Beach, Chappie, Children Of Men, District 9, Dune (both), Elysium, Ex Machina, Godzilla, Karmalink, Metropolis, Minority Report, Strange Days and more. It's not that there aren't others, there's a thesis in parallels with works of James Cameron covering the alphabet from The Abyss to The Terminator but each and all of these moments aren't being lost like tears in the rain they are drops that create a landscape, if it's erosion it is by sculpting, creating, not chance.
Is it a discourse on what it is to make a movie within a franchise, to say that the emotions engendered don't count because they're just machines? Is it an examination of the heavy-hand of the Pax Americana? Does the shape of the hovering USS Nomad recall the Death Star or the World Trade Centre or the Halo videogames' logo or all of them, everywhere, all at once? When things loom out of the thunderclouds is it Mothra or laser breath? Does the reliance on a dead wife embrace or subvert a heavy handed action trope? Does its protagonist operating undercover at a cost of an arm and a leg talk about sacrifice or survival or enhanced effects budgets?
I want to see it again. That's for looking at it, bathing in it, the environments and the enveloping ideas. Few of them new, let's be clear, even less so if you know by sight the logos of Ace or Baen or Corgi or Del Rey. The Sixties and Seventies recalled by the use of Deep Purple, by American intervention in 'New East Asia'. They might be listening to Radiohead's Everything In Its Right Place in a way that makes it seem like things aren't but it does still work. Though chronologically it'd be like Marines stepping out of a Huey in Vietnam to the strains of Entrance Of The Gladiators or from a V-22 in Tikrit to Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy. There's something in that dissonance, at least for me, and not just the synthesiser sounds from 2000's Kid A.
John David Washington might end up typecast as differently capable ingenues in vast science fiction apparatuses but he's more comfortable with what's asked of him than Vin Diesel was in Babylon AD. One could argue that it's a film that fits onto the same spectrum as that and Ultraviolet but in comparison, like the light, that's actively damaging. This is a bath, a balm, an uneasy piece in search of peace. Madeleine Voyles is adorable, though the reaction to her request for robots to be free raises the same horrifying questions as Phoebe Waller-Bridge's equivalent line as L3-37 in Solo. Alison Janney is an absolute treat as Colonel Howell, while Ralph Ineson fulfils the statutory quotient of English actors playing baddies she is driven and driving. If she has an antecedent it is perhaps Captain Willard not Phasma. I have been turning over a line about what she lost for a while now, and there's enough in its reading that and even more in hers that I'm still not sure. When she says she'll "see you in Valhalla," I'm even more uncertain.
There are wee guys whose heads compress into their barrel bodies like plungers in cartoons before they explode, the military industrial complex repurposing the tactics of the dispossessed in the name of oppression. There are what seem to be AK-47s re-engineered to 12.7mm and like almost everything else held they just feel right. There are cop cars that are containers clutched by squidlike dragonflies and big planes that drop small planes and user-friendly countdowns and holographic and animated images that don't have to turn down the quality to integrate with 'real' environments and seem all the more genuine for it.
There is a meditation on point and click warfare, what seem cursors appear on the ground and the horrors of those as an aid to decision-making will ring true to anyone who has used a mouse to command and conquer. The west would like it known that they disapprove of AI but their Butlerian Jihad makes a clumsy acronym of NOMAD as CHOAM did before. In a film with artificial intelligence and possibly anti-gravity the least realistic thing is a price-tag: the number given is less than the cost of the no-less science fictional F-35 which was appearing in films (Transformers, Die Hard 4.0) long before operational service. I'm sufficiently minded to suggest that there could have been a revaluation of currency, goodness knows there's a plot point in an anime involving vintage coins and a concealed crossbow and I didn't object to that.
Anime being a key, because this is drawn enough with effects and everything that it's no less animated than, say, Avatar: The Way Of Water or The Little Mermaid. This is only Gareth Edwards' fourth feature, but I'm fond of all of them, both in spite and because of the constraints of Toho and Lucasfilm and doing it all oneself. Cowriter Chris Weitz started features with Antz and while he has form for putting hats on children (see 2002's About A Boy) I think he's equally willing to lampshade his borrowings. I wonder if I want to see it again because so much of it was already familiar, the embrace of recognition. Not only of ideas, but execution, the craft of props and pixels creating something that feels like a differently believable future, a differently liveable one.
The film uses nirmata, a Nepalese word, for creator. Restating that on every chapter screen, where the interstitial ones give geographic co-ordinates in their multiple languages. Nepal a between place, a higher one from the plains, another opportunity to exercise architecture. I wouldn't want to bet that it might have been somewhere else but for financial decisions, but I can't wait to see the art books and makings of that will hopefully flow. I can't, just about, wait to see it again either. Amongst its many thefts it took my breath away.Reviewed on: 26 Sep 2023