Directed by Gareth Edwards, The Creator depicts a grounded and truly cinematic war over A.I. and actually has something to say about it.
Strange how rare it is to see a truly original, modestly budgeted sci-fi hit the big screen. Stranger still to see such a movie with enough insight and pedigree to give sci-fi fans something they’ve been craving from Hollywood from quite some time. An actual war movie between humans and machines. Not a post-apocalyptic treatise or time travel prequel sequel or animated short attached to a DVD hinting at the plight of A.I. in a humanity-dominated world. No, here comes The Creator, which sees director Gareth Edwards emerge from IP-driven properties such as Godzilla and Rogue One (a fascinating precursor to this film) with the confidence and fine-tuned execution of, well, a machine.
Edwards co-wrote the script with Chris Weitz (who also co-wrote Rogue One with Tony Gilroy), and together they posit an alternate future in which artificially intelligent machines have gone from being useful servants to humanity to being despised and mercilessly hunted by the American military industrial complex.
40 years in the future, A.I. has been almost totally extinguished, save for their shaky refuge in “New Asia,” a conglomerate of eastern countries where machines are at least tolerated, yet are still forced to fight a losing ground battle against the west thanks to a massive space station weapon that can precisely wipe out insurgent A.I. with this film’s equivalent of, ironically, drone strikes. The metaphors aren’t exactly subtle.
“This is a fight for our very existence.”
Entering the fray is John David Washington as Joshua, an ex-special forces agent who’s been tasked with finding the Nirmata, or Creator of modern A.I. But he’s actually involved in this dangerous mission because of a disastrous incident involving the supposed death of his pregnant wife, Maya (Gemma Chan). While behind enemy lines, Joshua comes to rely on a mysterious child (Madeleine Yuna Voyles, a revelation) who turns out to be a machine herself, even though A.I. children are apparently not a thing for whatever reason.
The child, later named Alfie, is Joshua’s Baby Yoda in some ways, boasting some profound abilities that could disrupt the balance in this war. But the film is purposefully foggy when it comes to the allegiances of various characters and what their ultimate goals are, notably Joshua himself. Ostensibly, he simply wants answers and to find his wife, but there’s a suggested sadness and greater issue troubling the man about the situation he’s even in. The Creator juggles a variety of pressing themes, but its take on veterans, particularly from American wars in the Middle East, has a bit more bite than expected.
“Are you going to heaven?”
The Creator is sure to face two inevitable criticisms, at least upon its initial release. First, it might be a good or bad thing for a movie this original to borrow so liberally from established sci-fi masterpieces. From Blade Runner to Aliens to District 9, Akira, and The Matrix, some might find Edwards’ crafted world here to be perhaps too familiar and reliant on what’s come before, while others will certainly relish in the film’s clear love of these films stirred into a singular identity and bolstered by its pitch-perfect performances (of which include Ken Watanabe, Sturgill Simpson, and Allison Janney).
The second inevitable criticism: the writing. Perhaps to capture the chaos of war and its shifting morality, the plot can be a bit too dense at times, in both meanings of the word. The story machinations are actually more complicated than the action set pieces at times, all of which show off Edwards’ intense eye for capturing the spirit of war with minimalist, understandable staging with maximalist effect. It’s a wonder that this film was made for just $80 million in a blockbuster landscape where that budget would barely cover the first act, yet The Creator outclasses just about every other live-action blockbuster of 2023 on a visual level alone.
The bottom line.
Ridley Scott and Denis Villeneuve continue to be the unquestionable masters of sci-fi helmsmen at this point in time, but after The Creator, there’s no question Gareth Edwards is on a trajectory to fill in his own niche, starting early on as an indie director to go on and make two franchise films to polarizing reactions, his latest work can and should mark a turning point for him. The Creator is stellar enough to be properly celebrated for its seemingly out-of-nowhere achievements, but it also teases the possibility that Edwards’ magnum opus is still yet to be seen.
The Creator opens in theaters on September 29. Watch the trailer here.
THE CREATOR - 9/10