The Creator

'Rogue One: A Star Wars Story' director Gareth Edwards goes back to his original sci-fi roots with this big-thinking and big-feeling film about humanity battling AI.
Sarah Ward
Published on September 27, 2023


Science fiction has never been afraid of unfurling its futuristic visions on the third rock from the sun, but the resulting films have rarely been as earthy as The Creator. Set from 2065 onwards, after the fiery destruction of Los Angeles that could've come straight out of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, this tale of humanity battling artificial intelligence is visibly awash with technology that doesn't currently exist — and yet the latest movie from Monsters, Godzilla and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story director Gareth Edwards couldn't look or feel more authentic and grounded. That isn't a minor feat. And, it doesn't simply stem from making a sci-fi flick with heart, which isn't a new move. Don't underestimate the epic yet intimate impact of seeing bold imaginings of what may come that have been lovingly and stunningly integrated with the planet's inherent splendour, engrained in everyday lives, and meticulously ensure that the line between what the camera can capture and special effects can create can't be spotted; The Creator hasn't.

So, as undercover military operative Joshua (John David Washington, Amsterdam) is tasked with saving the world — that go-to science-fiction setup — robots walk and talk, spaceships hover, and everything from cars to guns are patently dissimilar to the planet's present state. Flesh-and-blood people aren't the only characters with emotional journeys and stakes, either, with AI everywhere. Even if The Creator didn't tell its viewers so, there's zero doubting that its events aren't taking place in the here and now. Edwards and cinematographers Greig Fraser (The Batman) and Oren Soffer (Fixation) know how to make this flight of fancy both appear and seem tangible, though. Indeed, The Creator earns a term that doesn't often come sci-fi's way when it comes to aesthetics: naturalistic. Also don't underestimate how gloriously and immersively that the film's striking and sprawling southeast Asian shooting locations not only gleam, but anchor the story.

Edwards and his team, including production designer James Clyne (another Star Wars alum), have given their film human skin, then, amid all the tech workings. That's one of the big leaps forward in Edwards' screenplay with his Rogue One scribe Chris Weitz, too, with The Creator delivering its main examples of AI in humanoid form. These droids can easily be mistaken for something less cybernetic if the whirling circles where ears would normally be are covered, plus their exposed metal necks and backs of their heads as well. As Joshua discovers, they're also easy to connect with. The feature itself earns that same description — as it splashes two-plus hours of spectacular sights across the screen, this is big-thinking and big-feeling science fiction not just about where technology might lead, what that means for humans and how the species could spark such a situation, but also about empathy.

Humans and AI are long past co-existing in happy harmony when The Creator initially drops into Joshua's life, but he's a glowing expectant dad enjoying domestic bliss with his wife Maya (Gemma Chan, Don't Worry Darling) anyway. They're in New Asia, the artificial intelligence-sympathising part of the world after Los Angeles went nuclear, and she considers machines her family. The catch: his special forces gig, then a raid with a tragic outcome. Five years later, Joshua is back stateside, grief-stricken and on clean-up duties when he's brought back in by General Andrews (Ralph Ineson, The Northman) and Colonel Howell (Allison Janney, To Leslie). On this latest mission, eradicating AI's enigmatic mastermind Nimrata — and therefore wiping out AI at the same time — is still the aim, just made more urgent by news of a war-ending weapon that's capable of annihilating humanity's beam-wielding and village-bombing winged NOMAD vessel. But Joshua doesn't expect to meet android child Alphie (newcomer Madeleine Yuna Voyles) while going about the job.

As his resume attests, Edwards is head over heels for his chosen genre. His pre-Monsters gigs also span visual effects, which makes The Creator's seamless appearance hardly surprising. In fact, on his feature debut — a flick that's one of the great first films — he was also the movie's director of photography and production designer, and took care of the VFX, doing the latter at home in his bedroom. Back away from franchise land after his Godzilla and Star Wars stints, he's at his best making original sci-fi again, this time with a picture that grapples deeply with the big existence-changing development of our time. The Creator eagerly stands out there as well, clutching onto a message of acceptance in its central conflict. Shining with ambition, it's also a rarity with such an utter (and welcome) lack of past chapters, books, flicks, TV shows and any form of pre-existing intellectual property behind it, although it does worship a swathe of inspirations.

There's a difference between gleaning that a filmmaker watched and adored Blade Runner, District 9, Aliens and Dune, though — plus Apocalypse Now, Akira, The Matrix, Interstellar, Laputa, Castle in the Sky and, yes, Star Wars — and sitting through a movie that just brazenly ticks through element after element from other sources. The Creator never falls into the second category, instead playing like it's its own machine rather than a Frankenstein's droid built from other tech's parts. The narrative, the world-building, the visuals (even with Rogue One's Fraser earning an Academy Award for Denis Villeneuve's Dune: Part One), the heartfelt mood, the down-to-earth and old-school vibe, the sound (with a score by fellow Dune: Part One Oscar-winner Hans Zimmer, and also the exceptional use of Radiohead's 'Everything in its Right Place'), the ideas: they all ensure that this isn't cobbled together from spare components. So do the excellent performances by Washington in Tenet mode and first-timer Voyles, who convey a poignant rapport while selling their individual and shared yearnings.

Also beyond a doubt: that AI couldn't have made this movie (a timely thought given that it arrives to tackle the topic as Hollywood's strikes have been raging partly due to that very possibility). The Creator feels like it has fingerprints everywhere. As its magnificent visual effects glisten so convincingly that they don't resemble VFX at all even though they clearly are, the film looks carefully and affectionately crafted. When its dialogue is a touch obvious and Joshua's path a tad predicable, that still smacks of relatable and inescapable human nature. And, as it tensely and thrillingly — weightily, too — ponders war, hate, fear, military control, the fast jump to divide, what technology can destroy and give alike, and who sits on which side of the humans-versus-AI clash, The Creator happily gets thorny. Edwards seems sincerely fascinated with every thing, person, gadget, backdrop, sight, sound, notion, theme and musing he packs inside his film. Matching that response couldn't be a more instinctive reaction.


Tap and select Add to Home Screen to access Concrete Playground easily next time. x