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Movie Reviews

The Creator ★★★



Directed: Gareth Edwards

Cast: John David Washington, Madeleine Yuna Voyles, Gemma Chan, Allison Janney, Ken Watanabe

Released: 28th September 2023 (UK cinemas)

The Creator, Gareth Edwards’ latest science fiction film, is a paradox: refreshingly original in its visuals and worldbuilding, but hugely predictable in its narrative and central themes. This simultaneously results in one of the finest and most frustrating sci-fi films of 2023, and whilst it is enlivening to see a broad studio-backed sci-fi not built on existing IP, it is nevertheless a largely formulaic experience. Dig past the rich world and fantastic technical elements of The Creator, and you have a flimsy plot consisting of underwhelming characters and strikingly derivative thematic work.

In the near future, the Western world wages war with the humans and advanced AI of New Asia. It is a war that has been raging for over a decade, started by an AI-fired nuclear bomb that destroyed Los Angeles and caused the loss of one million human lives. In New Asia, the AI—hugely advanced and intelligent—live harmoniously with people; some, the so-called Simulants, even look eerily like their human counterparts, save for a hole in the head where their ears should be. Ex-special forces agent Joshua (John David Washington), still reeling from the death of pregnant wife Maya (Gemma Chan), is given a second chance by the American military to defeat the mysterious Nirmata aka The Creator.

Humans battling AI on small or large scales has been done many, many times before on screen: Blade Runner, The Terminator, The Matrix, Ex Machina, to name a few. For a new film to feel fresh therefore, it needs to have memorability to its proceedings, which is where The Creator both succeeds and fails. The world that Edwards and his team crafts is immense: richly detailed and dripping in thought-provoking lore and terminology, it is a sci-fi environment that feels completely tangible, both futuristic and relevant to our present day. The details are fascinating, from the skilfully designed monstrosity that is the NOMAD (an American warship), right down to the tiny markings on clothes and even the film’s captions and fonts.

Terrific location work and production design cement the carefully rendered world of The Creator. By shooting on location with computerised imagery added later, Edwards gives us rich, futuristic visuals grounded in our real world. These real environments dictate The Creator’s art direction. Add in Greig Fraser and Oren Soffer’s stunning cinematography, and The Creator is visually astounding and breathtaking; the collision of rural versus urban is striking.

Unfortunately, similar perhaps to James Cameron’s two Avatar films, rich worldbuilding and vibrant visuals cannot alone keep a film afloat. A weak narrative will always glare through. The Creator struggles to create characters you can connect with; by its climax, the emotional impact is considerably lacking. Washington is surprisingly wooden, although the eye-rolling script does little to help him. Madeleine Yuna Voyles, however, is remarkable as a young AI named Alphie, giving us an emotionally outstanding performance. The ever-charismatic Ken Watanabe as a Simulant called Harun is also a highlight.

There is some nuance to The Creator: Edwards draws some interesting points to Western interference in other continents, not least because of his film’s obvious Apocalypse Now influence. Yet for all this promise, The Creator follows run-of-the-mill plot points without ever fully taking advantage of its exquisite world, whilst the execution of its themes feels surprisingly unimaginative. Throw in a script that could have been written by an AI in parts (when Alphie is offered an edible treat, she asks instead for “freedom”, which is by far the most blundering moment of the lot), and you have a film of frustration. For all of Edwards’ big, bold swings, which should be celebrated, the feeling at the end of The Creator is one of missed opportunity.

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