“She looks like a little girl now, but she’s growing. Whoever has that kid, wins the war.”
Set in 2065, The Creator imagines a future where the West has banned use of AI following a nuclear attack and seeks to impose this decision on Asia, where robot “simulants” have been embraced. Gareth Edwards is brazen in drawing inspiration from a host of past science fiction films — most notably Blade Runner’s theme of hunted simulacra and whether they are alive (cheekily borrowing the line “more human than human”), along with Avatar’s military power viewing its might as right — yet he remixes these ideas into more than mere pastiche or homage, but a modern and thoughtful exploration of persisting fears regarding artificial intelligence. The Creator suggests that we are now conscious of our role in eradicating the neanderthals and are therefore fearful of the next threat like us. Edwards started out as a visual effects artist and the heavy use of VFX is not simply a flashy crutch but vital to the world building, using grounded, weathered technology to aid immersion as well as demonstrating the “othering” of the simulants in a similar way to District 9. The vast spaceship “Nomad” is an ever-present symbol in the sky of the West’s superior firepower and determination to eradicate the perceived threat — it is a clear metaphor for American colonial influence abroad, but it also makes for strange viewing just days after the Israel-Palestine conflict reignites, particularly with the film’s secondary theme of the harshness of war and destruction of innocence. Key to The Creator is the developing relationship between John David Washington as the conflicted hero and impressive newcomer Madeleine Yuna Voyles as the simulant child. Meanwhile Allison Janney provides a foe whose single-mindedness is understandable, contrasted with Ken Watanabe’s noble simulant guerrilla fighter. The Creator has an impressive sense of scale, aided by its numerous location shoots and a grandiose Hans Zimmer score. It is not without issues — the script is often clumsy with excessive expositional dialogue and reliance on contrivance to advance the story, but this is intelligent sci-fi that manages to create a world and tell a complete story within its 133-minute runtime. The result is the most satisfied I have felt when leaving a big budget sci-fi film for several years.
“All they ask of us is to stay here. Where it’s safe.”
After the excellent Booksmart, I had high hopes for Olivia Wilde’s sophomore directorial outing. Sadly, despite its panache, Don’t Worry Darling proves to be a shallow and often repetitive thriller that believes itself to be smarter than it is. The setup is a suitably surreal take on 1960s American suburbia where, like The Stepford Wives, something is palpably wrong. The leads’ idyllic relationship, with excellent performances from Florence Pugh and Harry Styles, is the film’s strength, Wilde’s direction providing eroticism through touch rather than nudity. As Alice becomes increasingly unsettled, the sound mix buzzes around uncomfortably like an insect, reflecting her mental state. Reflections are also a neat visual flourish, with several occasions where mirrors act impossibly. Third act twists are dangerous as they risk alienating an audience and Don’t Worry Darling manages the double sin of being entirely obvious with half of its conceit and entirely out of leftfield with the other. The result is an unsatisfying and disjointed reveal that leaves too little time to explore its ramifications. Chris Pine’s antagonist is overtly based on Jordan Peterson, particularly his obsession with order and chaos, and natural heirarchies, yet the film is content to make this allusion without attempting to debunk or even engage with his ideas. This is the film’s ultimate failure, which is that it never delves beneath the surface in any of its ideas, from cult programming to traditional gender roles to the broader concepts like satisfaction with our reality. There is far more to be gleaned from films with lesser ambitions like The Master or Martha Marcy Mae Marlene.
Disclosure: I know personally at least one person involved in the making of this film.
“When you love something, you protect it. It’s the most natural thing in the world.”
A millenia-spanning epic about immortal beings sent to Earth to shepherd humanity and the growth of civilisation, Eternals is one of the most experimental films within the MCU to date, handed to critically acclaimed independent film director Chloé Zhao. Although it is a flawed film, I think it is unfairly maligned by those who criticise the limited plot, when Eternals is deliberately written in a more thematic manner. The greater structural flaws are in pacing and in the manner that characters are introduced: the bulk of the film occurs as the Eternals reunite in present day, but these reunions are robbed of weight when we have to guess at the relationships which existed before, helped little by disjointed jumps through the ages to flesh out their familial conflicts. Time is spread thinly across the large ensemble cast. Eternals may be the most visually cohesive Marvel film to date, with its intricate golden art design and costuming, complementary visual effects for their powers, and beautiful cinematography — cinematographer Ben Davis was also responsible for the previous title holder, Doctor Strange. This extends to compellingly choreographed fight scenes — when the Eternals fight it often feels like a physical manifestation of differences of opinion. The most compelling concept is the idea of ageless beings searching for purpose amongst mortals, yet we see only glimpses through where they have ended up, some prioritising a dynastic career or family, whilst others find themselves inescapably isolated. Eternals‘ timing closely following the Infinity Saga is unfortunate in that it retreads Thanos’ quandary as to the justification of sacrificing life in order to allow more to flourish. I cannot help but feel that the film would have fared better unshackled from the expectations of fitting into a shared universe, particularly one in which they drastically escalate the power level as street level heroes become increasingly inconsequential against the likes of Celestials.
“Well, you grow up your whole lives together, you make excuses for people.”
Astrid Young Teo
Notable as a very rare Hollywood film with an all-Asian cast, it is great to see a film like Crazy Rich Asians succeed but that does not automatically elevate it beyond a derivative romantic comedy. A few early scenes suggest an insightful wit, like news spreading to family in Singapore through gossiping message chains before the end of a conversation in a New York. Yet, for most of the running time, the Singaporean location serves as set dressing, only occasionally touching upon the family dynamics specific to the Chinese diaspora. The film’s chief issue is wanting to have its cake and eat it — telling the story of a modest outsider rebuffed by a wealthy family, whilst at the same time glamourising the indulgence afforded by that wealth. The rare big budget representation in Crazy Rich Asians is welcome, featuring a who’s who of Western Asian actors, but — like many of its privileged characters — there is a disappointing superficiality to its success.