As someone whose livelihood is threatened by the development of Artificial Intelligence, I’ve often fantasized about waging an all-out war against the machines in my life. After all, who of us hasn’t dreamed of taking the toaster down a peg or two, the cocky bastard? So, I have to hand it to Gareth Edwards and his new movie The Creator, which made me feel pretty bad about my bot-based bigotry.
Set in the not-so-distant future, where The West has spent years waging a war against Artificial Intelligence, The Creator follows Joshua (John David Washington). He’s a former special forces agent tasked with hunting down and destroying a super weapon that is supposedly capable of winning the war for the machines in one fell swoop. There’s just one problem: the weapon in question is a six-year-old AI child called Alphie (Madeleine Yuna Voyles), who redefines everything Joshua thought he knew about his enemy.
As is so often the case with new movies, there’s a lot of buzz and hyperbole ahead of their release, and The Creator is no different. Some commenters have gone so far as to label the film one of the best movies of the year. Unfortunately, and I hate to be the one to break the news to you, Gareth, if you’re reading this, but The Creator isn’t quite that good.
Still, we shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good because I really liked this sci-fi film, and it’s hard to fault Edwards’ ambition. Indeed, The Creator feels like a very rare beast these days. It’s big, ambitious, and thoughtful sci-fi that, for the most part, eschews spectacle to tell a story about the dangers of discrimination, how conflict strips us of humanity, and the futility of war.
Don’t go thinking this is a joyless meditation on the hopelessness of war;, though; it’s not. The Creator is ultimately a popcorn movie full of exciting action scenes and sci-fi shenanigans. Still, it does raise fascinating questions about Western intervention and is brave enough to make the West and the US Army unambiguously the villain of the piece. That’s not something you see in a lot of films.
Now, I can’t lie; I’m not sure there’s anything new here, and fans of science fiction will definitely see the well-worn tropes and cliches that have come to define films like this. It’s a bit like Edwards chucked the best bits of Blade Runner and Apocalypse Now into a juicer and blended them up before adding just a dash of Avatar, but you know what? That sounds like a pretty tasty juice to us.
And, continuing this weird metaphor: The Creator is a damn fine film and probably one of the best science fiction movies of this relatively new decade, and it’s ideally placed to quench our thirst as we wander the deserts of the 2023 release calendar now that Warner Bros has delayed the Dune 2 release date to 2024.
Moving quickly away from drinks-based imagery, one of the things that impressed me most about the film was that despite dealing with some pretty heavy themes and occasionally getting a bit self-indulgent, Edwards manages to keep things entertaining.
A lot of this comes down to the way he skillfully weaves set pieces into the story. The action sequences aren’t there to reward audiences for sitting through a lecture on the notion of an artificial soul. They’re there to inform the characters and to move the story forward. Without spoiling anything, two of the film’s best action scenes don’t actually feature Joshua; they’re just small scenes that tell us so much about the world Edwards has created.
In fact, that world-building is another key strength of The Creator. While it’s definitely cribbing on the homework of the aforementioned Blade Runner, I’d argue we haven’t had world-building this effective since Ridley Scott sat down with Lawrence G. Paull and said, “What if LA had pyramids in the middle of it?” (Editor’s Note: Isn’t that production design?)
Glibness aside, Edward’s’ skill at world-building is undeniable, and anyone who’s seen Monsters will know he’s more than capable of using production design and staging to tell a story, but with The Creator, he takes that to the next level. Everything about his world felt lived in and real. It was so different from other modern sci-fi films, which quite often feel shallow and small (I’m sorry, but I’m looking at Star Wars. There are more than four important people in the galaxy!).
Of course, a world’s only as fascinating as the people you fill it with, and here’s where things fall down a little. While I don’t dislike any of the characters in The Creator, they all feel like echoes of better-drawn characters in other films. Joshua, for example, – the disabled ex-marine who, in the words of his friend, “goes native,” – feels like a Jake Sully stand-in, and Allison Janney’s Howell feels distinctly ‘Colonel Quaritch-y’ to us.
Thankfully, The Creator mostly manages to skirt around this problem by the grace of the incredible cast Edwards has at his disposal. Washington is brilliant as Joshua, and we could spill a lot of digital ink pontificating on how Gemma Chan turns what must have been about five pages of a script into a memorable and mysterious performance, but they’re not the real stars of The Creator.
No, it’s the young Yuna Voyles who stole the show and broke our hearts. Edwards gave the young actor an incredible amount of responsibility when he cast her as Alphie. After all, as the face of the simulant cause, the entire film hinges on you liking her, and child actors don’t always have the best batting average when it comes to being an endearing screen presence. Well, Yuna Voyles beats the odds; she’s superb as the pint-sized powerhouse, and we hope we get to see her again.
So, is The Creator one of the best movies ever made? Absolutely not. It’s nowhere near as smart as it thinks it is, borderline emotionally manipulative at times, and I think it might have wasted Ken Watanabe, but I can forgive all that (OK, maybe I can’t forgive wasting Watanabe) because this is the type of film I want to see Hollywood make more of. It’s thought-provoking and entertaining science fiction, which doesn’t feature anyone with the surname Skywalker and is filmed on what seem to be real sets with actors in the same room.
So please go and see The Creator. Let us make it one of the biggest movies at this year’s box office because films like this deserve to get made, and if we don’t, we’ll be stuck watching reboots, remakes, and sequels for the rest of our lives. God forbid they make Independence Day 3…
If you think Gareth Edwards’ new film sounds like something you’d like, you need to give our guide explaining if The Creator is streaming a read. We’ve also got an article explaining The Creator’s age rating.
Ambitious and bold, The Creator is breath of fresh air in a genre full of franchises and sequels.