So much of science fiction is allowing an audience to inhabit a world. If a storyteller can suck you in, that’s more than half the battle. Sci-fi in particular offers the right creative force ample avenues with which to do this. In the case of The Creator, Gareth Edwards has not just managed to do this with his high concept premise, but also with some distinct visuals. The end result is an incredibly ambitious yet almost always highly entertaining event film. You’ve never seen anything quite like this movie, which is a saying that gets bandied about a lot, but is pretty apt here.
The Creator is a vivid new sci-fi world to play in. Edwards makes it feel epic and intimate in the same frame, which is no small achievement. There’s a weirdness inherent to it, but also a familiarity. In some ways, this is almost like what a movie made by Hideo Kojima would be like (if you know what I’m getting at, that should be very exciting). Mostly, the big charm here is how much this is like the most expensive indie flick ever, as opposed to a moderately budgeted blockbuster. The difference is in the painstaking efforts to make it all feel lived in and different. It shows in the results, too.
In the future, artificial intelligence has become a major part of our everyday lives. Then, a nuclear bomb is detonated in Los Angeles, with AI seen as the culprit. The western world outlaws AI, though in the eastern world, they have a more peaceful relationship. In short order, a war begins between the human race and the forces of artificial intelligence, as well as those still harboring them. Years into the conflict, ex-special forces agent Joshua (John David Washington) is undercover on a mission to find and destroy the Creator, the architect of a more advanced AI. Joshua is grieving the loss of his wife Maya (Gemma Chan), who he’s convinced is actually still alive. Recruited to go on one last mission to kill the Creator, Joshua and his team of operatives learn that the artificial intelligence has developed a mysterious new weapon with the power to end the war for good, as well as potentially mankind itself. In enemy territory, they discover this world-ending weapon is actually an AI in the form of a young child (Madeleine Yuna Voyles).
Unable to kill the weapon, who he eventually names Alphie, he instead wants to utilize it to help find Maya. On the run, he’s pursued by Colonel Howell (Allison Janney) and tons of forces, including a giant bomber ship/station that can destroy large areas in one fell swoop. At the same time, the other side of the conflict looks at him askance, so he and Alphie are truly on their own. Well, until he starts to piece together what’s going on. It all builds to a big ending, which is very exciting, if slightly less thought-provoking than what’s come before.
John David Washington and young newcomer Madeleine Yuna Voyles are the highlights here. Washington gives off movie star vibes, which helps to flesh out a character that’s a bit rough around the edges. He’s giving you a different look at a sci-fi hero, which is easy to appreciate. As for Voyles, she’s best in show, really becoming, in short order, the beating heart of the film. She gives the movie its soul, as well as fuel’s Washington’s Joshua. She’s asked to do a lot but is more than up to the task. Supporting players, in addition to Gemma Chan and Allison Janney (both solid but unspectacular), include Amar Chadha-Patel, Ralph Ineson, Sturgill Simpson, Ken Watanabe, and more.
Filmmaker Gareth Edwards, co-writing here with Chris Weitz, treats this closer to his work with Monsters than with Godzilla or Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. I mean that in terms of the guerrilla style nature of the work. Edwards has some incredible talent behind the camera, with Greig Fraser sharing co-cinematographer duties with Oren Soffer, while the editing triumvirate is Hank Corwin, Scott Morris, and Joe Walker. Throw in a score by Hans Zimmer and everyone below the line is doing terrific work. Fraser and Soffer especially help Edwards to take your breath away. His direction is vibrant and mostly well paced. If there’s a flaw, it’s in the final act, which feels a bit rushed, compared to everything else. For a film that feels so unique up until that, Edwards and Weitz get a little bit standard issue as things wrap up. It’s not a huge issue, but it felt noticeable.
Awards-wise, The Creator could be a real technical player. Look for it to compete in Academy Award categories below the line, for sure. Something bigger like Best Picture will depend on box office and the precursors, but places like Best Production Design, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Makeup & Hairstyling, Best Sound, Best Original Score, and Best Visual Effects are definitely in play. In fact, it’s probably already the Visual Effects frontrunner. Beyond that? We shall see.
The Creator isn’t perfect, but it gets a ton of points for being different. Had it not been for the rushed third act, this would be among the most impressive works of the year. The film still is going to be a potential Oscar force below the line, but there was potential for an instant classic movie. We’re not quite there, but what we’ve got is still damn good.