In theaters on Friday 29th September, ‘The Creator’ represents a return for director Gareth Edwards, who made his name with low-budget sci-fi marvel ‘Monsters’ and was then recruited to make the likes of ‘Godzilla’ and a ‘Star Wars’ entry.
But with ‘The Creator’, he’s in his own world, albeit one that owes a big debt to genre and other classic movies.
What’s the story of ‘The Creator’?
Amidst a future war between the human race and the forces of artificial intelligence, Joshua (John David Washington), a hardened ex-special forces agent grieving the disappearance of his wife (Gemma Chan), is recruited to hunt down and kill the Creator, the elusive architect of advanced AI who has developed a mysterious weapon with the power to end the war… and possibly mankind itself.
Joshua and his team of elite operatives journey across enemy lines, into the dark heart of AI-occupied territory… Only to discover the world-ending weapon he’s been instructed to destroy is an AI in the form of a young child.
Who else is in ‘The Creator’?
Is ‘The Creator’ worth watching?
Gareth Edwards is more known these days for being the director behind such giant franchise movies as ‘Godzilla’ and ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ (more controversially on the latter, since there was plenty of talk about how the studio had Tony Gilroy come in and re-write/re-shoot chunks of the movie, and it’s telling that Gilroy would go on to create prequel Disney+ series ‘Andor, not Edwards).
But before both of those behemoths, he was the talent responsible for the excellent, grounded (despite the presence of giant alien creatures) ‘Monsters’ in 2010, which mixed a very human story of mismatched love with superbly realized effects. ‘The Creator’ leans much more into that style of film, with its shaky-cam guerilla shooting utilizing some beautiful natural backgrounds across Asia and story of a human being making a connection.
Yet while ‘Monsters’ was inspired by disaster films (and Richard Linklater for its central duo), ‘The Creator’ is feeding more from the output of filmmakers such as James Cameron and Francis Ford Coppola. This is a work of excellent world building, Edwards carefully assembling a reality where the West is engaged in a conflict against the artificial lifeforms it built to perform tasks which has since rebelled to secure its own freedom.
A nuclear strike on Los Angeles a decade ago left America going on the offensive, but in a nice twist of the usual man-vs-machine narrative, Asia has embraced the AI, offering sanctuary for the various synthetics. It gives the story echoes of Vietnam, the U.S. involved in a war it may not win.
To try and prevent that, the US government has built NOMAD, a giant orbital weapons platform that can target individuals and structures, launching devastating missile strikes. The technological terror makes for superb visuals, spectral lasers scouring the countryside and raining fire down upon mech-heads.
‘The Creator’ also looks great, the mostly natural settings (though a grubby industrial city glimpsed midway through the movie is just as remarkable) giving this a standout style.
Edwards also has a good eye for casting, with Washington giving another solid performance and bonding well with newcomer Voyles, who believably mixes childlike innocence with the flawless effects work of the character. Supporting them are the likes of Janney (as a gritty Colonel who will stop at nothing to track them down) and Watanabe, reuniting with his ‘Godzilla’ director and doing typically excellent work as an AI with a link to Joshua’s past.
This might be the most beautiful and technologically effective sci-fi thriller you’ll see this year.
What doesn’t work about ‘The Creator’?
There are some downsides to the movie, primarily that its world-building invention and affecting performances can’t quite overcome the storyline, which feels like the director (who wrote the script with Chris Weitz, his collaborator on early drafts of ‘Rogue One’) borrowing parts of other movies.
It’s possible to see elements of primarily James Cameron’s movies, especially ‘The Terminator’ (a U.S. Army vehicle deployed late in the movie reminded me of the tank-like Hunter Killers) and ‘Aliens’ (in the dynamic of the grunts Janney leads into combat), blended with something more along the lines of Alfonso Cuaron’s work.
Which is not completely a bad thing –– if you’re going to borrow, why not pick the best? Yet when you’re ticking off elements you’ve seen in movies such as ‘The Matrix’ and ‘Blade Runner’ and not completely concentrating on the tale that Edwards is looking to tell here, you know you’re in some trouble.
Likewise, the story itself, of Joshua’s connection to the young AI, is something we’ve seen several times before even with the various metaphysical and ethical trappings aiming to freshen things.
Add to that the fact that despite an early scene of them swapping banter, the bond between Washington and Chan’s characters is nowhere near as effective, with the various flashbacks to stages of their relationship coming across as the filmmaker trying to convince you to feel something and falling short.
The problems, though, don’t sink this one. It’s good to see Edwards back to his own sphere after a few years of running around in other people’s genre playgrounds. ‘The Creator’ is proof that he hasn’t lost his touch for sweeping sci-fi with relatable emotions at its core, and it’s certainly one I would recommend seeking out in IMAX formats to make the most of the love poured into the look of the movie.
This may not be the most original movie you’ll see this year, but it’s certainly one of the more impressive. Welcome back, Gareth Edwards: we’ve missed your viewpoints and your heartfelt humanity.
‘The Creator’ receives 8 out of 10 stars.
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‘The Creator’ is produced by New Regency Pictures, 20th Century Studios, McFarland Entertainment, and Entertainment One, and will be in theaters on September 29th.