Writer-director Gareth Edwards has quickly developed a strong vision for large-scale stories that stand out in major franchises with 2014’s Godzilla and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. The Creator, his latest film, presents an emotional, fresh and exciting epic story to the oversaturated AIsci-fi subgenre.
The Creator brings viewers into a near-future where AI has rapidly developed to the point where it’s become ingrained into everyday lives. Robots can be seen working alongside humans and even human-looking AI robots called Simulants are being developed to live among people. However, that sense of peace and cooperation is broken when an AI program drops a nuclear bomb over Los Angeles – killing hundreds of thousands in the process. Because of this, the West has decided to outright ban AI and engage in a war with New Asia who is harboring an AI guru known as Nirmata – who has supposedly created a Simulant capable of destroying the West’s greatest weapon.
Now, if you’ve already rolled your eyes by this point at the mere mention of AI being a pivotal plot point, it’s hard to blame you. Audiences have been beaten over the head with AI-focused stories this year from Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning (Part 1) to Spy Kids: Armageddon to M3GAN to Netflix’s Heart of Stone — it’s getting a little absurd. While it’s not surprising since Hollywood is all about chasing trends, it does impact something like The Creator as the film’s focus on AI and its familiarity fromother cinema spectacles is both a gift and a curse. With so many films already dishing out messages on our growing connection to AI, The Creator is forced to hit a standard it doesn’t always reach. It struggles to evoke needed depth to add new perspective on the dangers or concerns of AI and actually takes a sympathetic stance towards AI that general audiences might not be ready for yet.
The Creator also does have a familiar feel to it as a film and the structure of its world and story are reminiscent of a bunch of different films. Avatar, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Armageddon (more so the final stretch), Blade Runner – the list of similar films could go on and on. The Creator even feels like Rogue One through its rebellious New Asia faction and it’s what keeps the film from feeling fully original. It has the DNA of so many different films in it and its sense of being overly familiar does keep it from genuinely feeling fresh.
Yet, even thought The Creator is late to the AI party it manages to stand apart due to Edwards’ vision for these characters, the film’s world, and this emotional story. When it comes to crafting an immersive and intriguing world, the film’s New Asia setting is as narratively compelling as it is visually striking. The contrasting visuals of naturalistic settings paired against more tech-driven architecture is fascinating. It’s something that fits perfectly with New Asia’s belief of AI and humans living cohesively together and legitimately makes this feel like a near-future world that’s actually possible. The designs for the robots and Simulants reflect that ideology as well through their simplistic design and “almost human” feel in their interactions and reactions.
The way Edwards captures this rebellion and a world where AI exists alongside humanity in a grounded fashion really alters your perspective on where our connection with AI can go. When it comes to the action sequences, The Creator is just top tier. The war scenes hit an epic visual caliber that’s worthy of the best screening format possible. The creativity in weaponry and tactics of both sides makes for unpredictable, tense and thrilling fights. There’s a sequence where Western forces send out their own robot to cause destruction that’ll leave viewers holding their breath and clutching their seats the entire time.
The Creator is a strong visual showcase through its action and setting, but also a great moment for Edwards to flex his world-building prowess. There are a lot of little details and interesting aspects to the world that really catch your eye – which draws viewers deeper into what’s happening and creates a sense of intrigue that’ll have them wanting to explore more.
Within this excellently crafted world are characters that audiences will really connect with and have some strong emotional depth to their stories. You really feel how that moment of the nuke being dropped on LA and kicking off this global conflict has continued to affect everyone you see in the film. It’s a big sticking point throughout the whole film and the ramifications of that tragedy are weaved throughout the different interactions. Even the impact of this ongoing war between the East and the West adds some interesting and emotional shades to these characters. They talk about what they’ve lost, hope to achieve, and what they aspire the world to be in such a charismatic and real way that it’s hard not to relate and connect to their stories. These characters are excellently developed and connected with this world in meaningful ways that add great depth to them and the strong performances.
John David Washington continues to prove himself as a top leading man with his performance as Joshua – an American soldier who mission to find Nirmata’s AI weapon. Joshua’s mission takes a turn when he discovers that the weapon is a Simulant child, who he eventually names Alphie (Madeleine Yuna Voyles). His journey to work alongside Alphie to find his missing wife Maya (Gemma Chan) is the emotional centerpiece of the film and we see a vastly different side of Washington through this performance. With Joshua having stakes in both sides of the war, there’s this inner conflict within him that’s perfectly displayed by Washington and this role really lets him explore his range. This film requires Washington to be both a line-spewing lead who can make viewers laugh and smile and an emotionally vulnerable broken man who’s capable of evoking tears from audiences. He effortlessly shows he’s capable of both, and he brings a physicality and desperation to Joshua that shows him as a capable and adaptive survivalist.
Voyles delivers a nice breakout performance as well – bringing a great sense of growing maturity yet lovable innocence to Alphie that acts as the heart of this film. She holds her own against like Washington and makes her own mark through her own great line-delivery and the genuine emotion she brings to the high-stakes final act. It’s also worth giving props to Allison Janney’s performance as Colonel Howell – an antagonist figure for Joshua. She nails the delivery of the emotional substance of the character’s motivations and brings a dark energy that audiences will feel. Sturgill Simpson and Ken Watanabe round out the film’s great supporting cast as well and everyone really adds their own impact to the surprisingly emotional journey the film brings audiences on.
The film’s plot is a classic cinematic adventure through and through. It is a pivotal way that the film’s unique perspective on AI and its familiarity act as a gift instead of a curse. The more sympathetic approach to the film’s AI depictions and discussions are exemplified through Joshua and Alphie’s growing bond. As their connection develops, audiences will start to feel more invested in this unique perspective on AI and be surprised by how emotionally connected they are to this story. With all that emotion built in, the film’s sense of adventure and the epic feel of its finale really leave their mark. The final act of The Creator is pure movie magic in how it builds excitement and emotion simultaneously and features such satisfying conclusions. It’s literally the kind of finale that’ll have tears rolling and leave a big smile on your face because it’s so emotionally fulfilling.
The Creator isn’t a flawless feature by any means, but it’s an excellent showing of Edwards’ vision for cinematic spectacle with meaningful emotional underpinnings. It has got everything that audiences want in movies – from incredible stories and performances to visually stunning action and worlds – and is an instant classic when it comes to blockbusters. The Creator is undeniably one of the best original films of the year and a strong contender for Edwards’ best film yet.