Where has Gareth Edwards been all these years? Despite the success of 2016’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – which now has its own prequel series in Andor and still stands as one of the more beloved projects from Disney-era Lucasfilm – the British writer-director has been absent from the spotlight. Now, 7 years later, Edwards has returned with a new original sci-fi epic titled The Creator. Co-written by Chris Weitz (The Golden Compass), The Creator seems like an anomaly in today’s Hollywood landscape. Non-IP science fiction at this level has been moving away from theaters and onto streaming in the last decade. Unless you’re someone like James Cameron, pitching an original story as huge as The Creator to executives can be nothing more than foolish. But, miraculously, here we are with 20th Century Fox placing its bets on Gareth Edwards. And for my money’s worth, this gamble pays off.
Centered around a war between humans and artificial intelligence in the not-so-distant future, The Creator doesn’t necessarily break new ground for the genre but it does offer a fascinating spin on a familiar, yet ever-so-topical tale. When discussing Gareth Edwards’ film, its rarity as a modern original sci-fi blockbuster must be taken into consideration. However, it’s also impossible to ignore just how timely The Creator feels given it being released at a time when a large portion of Hollywood (the WGA and SAG-AFTRA to be exact) have continued to fight against A.I. in the creative workspace with historic strikes. Edwards touches upon certain aspects of A.I., such as body scanning, that hit a little too close to home for the entertainment industry by pure coincidence. This was bound to happen, although this movie isn’t concerned with spoon-feeding a message about the dangers of self-advancing technology.
Instead, The Creator is a much more reflective piece about what we as human beings leave behind and what we cannot undo. John David Washington (Tenet, BlacKkKlansman) plays our protagonist Joshua, an ex-special forces agent who is reluctantly thrown back into the war against artificial intelligence that sees the West and East on opposing sides. In the future, A.I. is eventually integrated into every aspect of human life, sentient machines and “simulants” (robots with human faces/appearances) co-existing with people in both the home and work environments. Machines are seen as equals without prejudice until they are blamed for an inexplicable nuclear explosion in Los Angeles that leaves thousands dead, leading the United States government to eradicate all forms of artificial life. The machines flee the West and find refuge in what’s now known as “New Asia,” where A.I. continues to develop and coexist peacefully in society.
The United States soon wages war not on New Asia but on the A.I. that continues to exist within it, claiming that another deadly attack is inevitable. With the help of the U.S. superweapon NOMAD – a space station that can scan A.I from orbit and fire powerful missiles like one massive drone – the West slowly invades New Asia in search of the scientist known as “Nimrata,” the elusive architect who is suspected of leading A.I. advancement in the East. Joshua is hesitant to rejoin the fight after losing his wife Maya (Gemma Chan) in a bombing, but when he learns of her possible survival he heads back to New Asia under the assignment of General Andrews (Ralph Ineson) and Colonel Howell (Allison Janney). His mission: find and destroy Nimrata’s new secret weapon that is said to have the power to take NOMAD offline.
When Joshua discovers that this so-called weapon is actually a one-of-a-kind simulant child (newcomer Madeleine Yuna Voyles), his allegiance to his government is tested as he learns what it truly means to be human. Now, admittedly, The Creator is heavy on exposition. Though we’re allowed to really sink our teeth into this lore at a smooth pace. Gareth Edwards has proved himself to be an ace worldbuilder, providing only the basics at the beginning and keeping us invested by progressively planting new story elements with satisfying payoffs until the film’s very end. Where Edwards and co-writer Chris Weitz may start to lose some audiences is in the actual character work though. Both Godzilla (2014) and Rogue One were criticized for weak characterization. However, The Creator points to where Edwards’ true intentions lie as a storyteller, and it’s not purely for the sake of style over substance.
Much like in Edwards’ previous works, the protagonist in The Creator is presented as an everyman who is given the unlikely chance to save humanity. Joshua may be an ex-special forces agent, but when thrown back into war, he’s no more of an asset than his fellow troops. Just another cog in the well-oiled machine of Western Imperialism. John David Washington does a lot of the heavy lifting (like he did in Tenet) as he injects our protagonist with unrelenting vigor and just the right dose of light-hearted charm. Whereas some might say his backstory is slightly underdeveloped, others might point out that enough room is left for our own imagination. Thanks to Washington’s performance, we’re able to fill in the blanks and grow with Joshua as the plot progresses. Yet, this transition wouldn’t work without the movie’s breakout star, Madeleine Yuna Voyles as Alphie.
The Creator is low on comedic relief, keeping the tone of an unforgiving war film consistent throughout. In a lesser movie, the cute and innocent child character would be tasked with delivering the laughs and getting easy sympathy out of an audience. While Gareth Edwards does play into the “Lone Wolf and Cub” trope, our simulant child Alphie is never used as a gimmick (think Baby Yoda). Madeleine Yuna Voyles is a born natural on screen, giving an honest performance as Alphie which rightfully earns all of your emotional investment. It’s through this child that we, along with Joshua, start to question our own perspectives on A.I. – not whether it’s simply good or bad but our responsibility over its purpose and power. The script is at its best in these instances when we’re allowed to picture ourselves in Joshua’s shoes, not when it’s too busy juggling exposition.
Visually, this is Gareth Edwards’ finest work yet. The various architectures bleed inspiration from Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner while the sci-fi warfare and character designs callback to George Lucas and Star Wars. Additionally, when we’re thrown into the jungles of New Asia, Edwards draws parallels to the Vietnam War and it’s hard not to think about Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. You could go on all day about the many inspirations behind The Creator, but the film still has its own triumphant voice. Cinematographers Oren Soffer and Greg Fraiser craft a visual language that balances the beauty of tropical locales with the harshness of industrial metal. CGI and practical landscapes are blended effortlessly, always maintaining rich levels of immersion. All of this work is even more awe-inspiring when you consider that The Creator was shot on a Sony FX3 – an affordable camera that can be bought at Best Buy!
Despite its script being slightly imbalanced, the biggest problem being too much explaining vs. showing in terms of emotion and plot, the last thing you can say about The Creator is that it’s tailored for the masses. Gareth Edwards sticks to his guns in building a true sci-fi epic, relentless in its depictions of war and captivating in its themes. Many will not be fond of its cold portrayal of life on the battlefield, no character ever feels safe and can be taken out at any moment. Yet, this brutality may be the point of what Edwards is trying to convey. When the U.S. is literally using a giant drone to eradicate a targeted group overseas, you would have to be really ignorant to ignore this film’s politics. Even after the introduction of A.I., humanity’s largest threats will still stem from our own ignorance.
Bolstered by a sweeping original score from Hans Zimmer, The Creator is definitely not to be missed on the big screen. Plus, the great Ken Watanabe and Allison Janney get to shine in awesome supporting roles that reflect the duality of man vs. machine. If you’ve missed the days when major studios would frequently take risks on original and bold sci-fi movies in theaters, like District 9, Oblivion, Elysium, or Edge of Tomorrow, then The Creator is right up your alley. Rather than trying to offer solid answers for the future of A.I., Edwards leaves us with the alluring notion that it’s still to be determined. A.I. isn’t going anywhere now that it’s been unleashed upon the world, and it’s up to us to answer for it.