Gareth Edwards delivers the kind of original sci-fi blockbuster that has become a rarity in Hollywood.
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The evolution of AI is terrifying for many. The fact that “The Terminator” is closer to becoming a reality than it ever was is something that rattles us more than any horror movies ever could.
“The Creator” isn’t that kind of AI movie, contrary to what you might think. While the film does tackle some extremely timely subject matter, it's not talking about that kind of subject matter.
Directed by Gareth Edwards, sci-fi has already stood out as an object of beauty. Big-budget original sci-fi films aren’t too common anymore, especially on the big screen. In this day and age, it is all about IP, and we rarely see a film on the scale of “The Creator,” we might have original tentpole films from Christopher Nolan or Denis Villeneuve, but those are the kinds of filmmakers that can get just about anything made.
Edwards, despite having directed big-budget blockbusters like the 2014 “Godzilla” reboot and the Star Wars spinoff “Rogue One” (which is arguably the best film of the franchise’s Disney era), isn’t as well-known of a name as Nolan or Villeneuve, but he is one hell of a fascinating filmmaker.
Set in the not-too-distant future “The Creator” begins 10 years after AI has rebelled against humans and detonated a nuclear bomb over Los Angeles. Joshua (John David Washington) has been working undercover with the US government to thwart any future attacks by the AI, but his mission is put into disarray after his pregnant wife Maya (Gemma Chan) is seemingly killed in an ambush.
Years have passed and Joshua has since left the special forces, grieving the loss of Maya. That is until the government Howell (Allison Janney) recruits him to travel across enemy lines to find and destroy a world-ending weapon. Joshua faces a crisis of morality when he discovers that this so-called weapon is in the form of a young girl (Madeleine Yuna Voyles), who he hopes to bring to safety, while both the humans and the AI are pursuing him.
Edwards’ latest film is absolute perfection on a technical level; it's undeniably one of the best-looking films you’ll see all year. The visual effects blend seamlessly into the film’s post-apocalyptic world, there’s not a single moment in the film that feels fake.
The film was made on a budget of $80 million, which compared to the finances of recent blockbusters like “The Flash” (rumored to be in the vicinity of $300 million) and “Ant-Man and the Wasp Quantumania” ($200 million), isn’t as hefty of a sum as you might expect. Even more impressive is the fact that “The Creator” has visual effects that look leaps and bounds better than either of those two movies.
The action sequences play out much more like scenes from a war film, Edwards has cited that “Apocalypse Now” had a massive influence on the film, and you can tell. Some of the violence on display is relentless, even when its robots are being killed, it's shocking to see that the film landed a PG-13 rating. The film’s immaculate cinematography, hailing from Greig Fraser and Oren Soffer, is another highlight, these are some of the most visually stunning setpieces you’ll see all year.
After his impressive breakout performance in “BlacKkKlansman,” John David Washington has made some questionable choices in his filmography. While he exuded a great deal of charisma in “Tenet,” he felt woefully miscast in last year’s star-filled stumble “Amsterdam.” His performance as Joshua in “The Creator” is his best work since he starred in the aforementioned Spike Lee joint back in 2018.
While it might be easy to immediately try and compare Washington’s acting to his Oscar-winning father’s, he has a completely different acting style and one that brings his own unique energy. Washington’s performance is further elevated by his younger co-star, Madeleine Yuna Voyles, who stars as the youthful AI Alphie.
Voyles is not only precocious in her role, but her character is also the film’s beating heart. Her back-and-forth with Washington feels so genuine and from the heart. As for the rest of the film’s ensemble, screen legends like Allison Janney and Ken Watanabe feel woefully underutilized, with Janney’s antagonist in particular feeling too underwritten to be anything memorable. Gemma Chan’s Maya plays a massive role in the overall plot of the film, but the actress herself gets very little to do on screen other than through brief flashbacks.
“The Creator” has a lot of ambition and its world-building is brilliant, but the story itself leaves much more to be desired. Edwards’ attempts to use the war against humans and AI as allegories on the US military-industrial complex, government fear-mongering, and world-policing, and while it was a commendable attempt, they feel a bit lost when the film tries to also be something more sentimental and emotional.
Many may be quick to excuse the screenplay, which Edwards co-wrote with Chris Weitz, as stiff and emotionless. But the truth is, that’s almost always been how sci-fi films like this are; just look at films like “Dune” and “Blade Runner 2049.” Yet that doesn’t pardon the film from not being able to make its more emotional moments feel effective, as it desperately tries to punch at your heartstrings on multiple occasions, and it's not until the film’s ending that it becomes a little more satisfying.
With the rise of AI, many might be going into “The Creator” thinking that this is the kind of film that will play out more like “i, Robot” or “Terminator,” but the truth is it has much more in common with Neil Blomkamp’s “District 9,” as it attempts to humanize the AI, much like Blomkamp’s film did with aliens.
Even with some of its warts, “The Creator” is the kind of film that over time, will likely grow a big fanbase. It’s that specific kind of science fiction that, has always benefitted from being rewatched. It also just feels refreshing, while its story might head into more conventional territory, the world itself is practically perfect.