‘The Creator’ aims for sentimental, lands at artificial

(2 stars)

The boldest thing about “The Creator,” a mash-up of mostly familiar sci-fi and war-movie tropes, is the filmmakers’ choice of a villain: the United States of America. Set some 40 years in the future, director and co-writer Gareth Edwards’s movie imagines an American campaign of mass destruction against New Asia, a sort of pan-Asian restaurant of a country.

The United States has banned artificial intelligence after blaming it for a nuclear explosion that destroyed Los Angeles. New Asia, meanwhile, is a wonderland of tolerance that accepts not just multiple ethnicities and languages but also AI-brained robots and the part-human cyborgs called “simulants.” The United States sets out to eliminate any creatures with AI consciousness in a war that initially suggests Vietnam — the director names “Apocalypse Now” as one of his inspirations — and soon escalates into one of “Oppenheimer’s” A-bomb nightmares.

Poised to be at the center of the American offensive is Joshua (“Tenet” star John David Washington), who’s living undercover in a part of New Asia that looks to be a Thai beach resort. He’s a war-scarred veteran whose missing arm has been replaced with a robotic one, making him something of a cyborg himself. That’s significant, since one of “The Creator’s” morals is the acceptance of all beings, even those that are partly or entirely machines.

Joshua is rapturously married to Maya (British-Chinese performer Gemma Chan), who’s cool with simulants, and they’re expecting a baby. But the couple’s domestic tranquility is blown to smithereens when the United States viciously attacks — led by, of all people, Allison Janney. (Yes, the “West Wing” star here plays something akin to the ruthless Tom Berenger role in “Platoon.”)

Now apparently a widower, Joshua is brought into an American effort to destroy a new superweapon made by the mysterious Nirmata, whose name is Nepalese for “creator.” This threat turns out to be a simulant with the form of a 6-year-old girl (Madeleine Yuna Voyles), who acquires the nickname Alphie. Like all simulants, Alphie has a large metal-lined hole in the side of her head. (Why? “The Creator” doesn’t address questions like that.) Still, she’s pretty cute, and Joshua easily transfers his paternal feelings for his lost child to her.

And so Joshua finds himself fighting the United States alongside such simulants as Harun (Ken Watanabe, who starred in Edwards’s “Godzilla”). Attempting to protect Alphie, Joshua travels with or in pursuit of her to various locations, including a massive American flying fortress. The United States named the ominous military airship NOMAD, but in honor of Edwards’s direction of “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” let’s call it the Death Star.

Edwards hasn’t made a movie since 2016’s “Rogue One,” reportedly a troubled project. With “The Creator,” he moves ever so slightly toward the strategies of his 2010 debut, “Monsters,” which was made for less than $500,000. Edwards’s new movie is hardly a low-budget production, but the filmmakers did employ such cost-cutting measures as shooting mostly on location and using relatively inexpensive digital cameras.

Special effects were inserted later, with varying degrees of success. The visuals are sometimes murky, and the CGI additions not always persuasively integrated into the whole.

Co-written by another “Rogue One” veteran, Chris Weitz, “The Creator” begins frantically (and a bit confusingly) and often features sweeping crowd scenes. But the movie’s ultimate ambition is to be a tear-jerker, focused intimately on the fates of just a few characters as the world crashes and burns around them.

While susceptible viewers may shed a tear, others will find the sentimental aspects of the story uninvolving. Overloaded with incidents, effects and explosions, “The Creator” fails to develop the personalities and relationships that would give its central characters an affecting humanity. The movie’s attempt to touch the heart comes off as, well, artificial.

PG-13. At area theaters. Contains violence, some bloody images and strong language. 133 minutes.

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