Thursday, September 28, 2023


 by Rob DiCristino

A new original sci-fi film. Well, sort of.

If nothing else, we can say this for Gareth Edwards: We always know when we’re watching a Gareth Edwards movie. Since garnering mainstream attention with his 2010 feature debut Monster, the English writer/director has established himself as a potent stylist in the sci-fi genre, particularly through his impressive visual compositions and nuanced atmospheric design. In 2014’s Godzilla and especially 2016’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (which remains just a rewrite or two away from being one of the franchise’s best entries), Edwards presents worlds of tactile wonder teeming with texture and life, worlds made truly captivating through a careful synthesis of scale, depth, and point-of-view. They’re filmmaking basics sorely neglected in this age of plasticine cartoonery, and Edwards seems to miss them just as much as the rest of us do. But even the most photo-realistic computer animation means nothing if it isn’t conveying an emotion, Edwards knows; effects are only special if they’re in service of characters and ideas.
The Creator is certainly full of ideas, all of which will be immediately recognizable to anyone with cursory knowledge of science fiction cinema. Co-written by Edwards and Chris Weitz, it’s set in the aftermath of a devastating nuclear attack on Los Angeles that pits American military forces against the artificial intelligence that was once engineered to support and protect them. Still mourning the loss of his pregnant wife (Gemma Chan as Maya), ex-Space Marine Joshua Taylor (John David Washington) is reluctantly coaxed into scouring A.I. strongholds in Asia for evidence of a superweapon that his superiors (Ralph Ineson and Allison Janney) believe is powerful enough to bring humanity to its knees. He soon finds said weapon in the form of the pint-sized Alphie (Madeleine Yuna Voyles), a human-A.I. hybrid with telekinetic abilities and a predilection for Saturday morning cartoons. Sensing a deeper truth about their connection, the pair works together to end the conflict and save both species from disaster.

You may already be thinking that you’ve seen this all before — and you have — and Edwards makes no attempt to play coy about his influences. Nearly every action sequence or philosophical debate evokes some cocktail of Blade Runner, District 9, Minority Report, or Children of Men, while character designs take healthy inspiration from Ex Machina, Akira, Edge of Tomorrow, and The Matrix. There’s even a Cylon-esque battlestation called N.O.M.A.D. — which hovers ominously in the upper atmosphere as it scans the landscape for synthetic targets — a pair of trash can-shaped kamikaze robots straight out of WALL-E, and a consciousness up/downloading mechanic shoehorned into the background just for good measure. But while The Creator’s various story concerns clash with belligerent ferocity in a rushed final act that came out of an entirely less patient blockbuster, the effort is ultimately made watchable by Edwards’ bravura blend of fascist Western futurism and the old-world, handmade cultural touchstones of the East.
It’s a good thing the visuals are as staggering as they are — if my IMAX presentation felt sufficient, it was only just so — because John David Washington’s Joshua is a frustrating, half-formed hodgepodge of dystopian hero archetypes, a lovelorn survivor whose allegiances and prejudices only become hazier as The Creator progresses. Washington continues his search for shaky footing as a leading man, and he’s done no favors playing a character who exists to serve a purpose that never seems as organic to his nature (such as it is) as we’d like. Voyles gives Robot Kid as well as anyone ever has, but Alphie’s “Everyone Should Be Equal” refrains feel like a prosaic delivery service for Themes to Be Developed Later. What does she feel? Why does she care? What was she taught by her creator, and why? If the cast has a standout, it may be Allison Janney; the Oscar-winning elder stateswoman is a shrewd choice for the battle-hardened Colonel Howell, and Janney brings all the wry, whip-snapping acidity we’ve come to expect.
There’s also a grimacing Ken Wantanabe warrior with a secret agenda and a dead wife subplot that’ll have Chris Nolan creaming his very British trousers, but any and all shading gets lost in the noise of Alphie hijacking lunar spacecrafts and Joshua straddling nukes like he’s Slim Pickens. It’s hard not to feel like Edwards and Weitz lost their nerve in the final movement, either unsure of where their delicate and humanistic morality tale should conclude or just unwilling to take it there. But even if The Creator doesn’t entirely work — and it doesn’t — it should still serve as a reality check for a bloated blockbuster ecosystem that desperately needs to learn some hard truths about itself and its audience. Spending about as much on the entire film as the Dial of Destiny production offices spent on thumbtacks, Edwards has delivered a charming and thought-provoking drama with just enough edge to be worth a second thought the next day. That used to be enough for most movies. Maybe one day, it will be again.

The Creator
is in theaters now.


  1. I had forgotten this was made by Edwards. After reading your fine review, and being reminded of that fact, I'm very much looking forward to watching this in the theatre.

    1. And I meant "fine" as in "of high quality". Not in the way used to describe a movie as "it's fine" (followed by an invisible shrug).

      Ha, it was discussed on the podcast about describing a movie as "fun", and unfortunately that's one of my go to phrases! It certainly isn't faint praise when I use it. I'm just not a writer, and have a limited # of adjectives I can use to describe a movie, so I'm saying fun all the time.

    2. I'm certainly here for JDW. He's been awesome in everything so far