The Creator (Review) 2023

Writer’s note: The second paragraph of this article (just below the first image) contains a basic outline of the film’s premise. There are no spoilers that weren’t already inferred in the film’s own trailer. However, if you want to completely avoid potential spoilers, skip over the second paragraph.

This has been said many times before, but original, big-budget, blockbuster movies are virtually non-existent nowadays. Today, the only large scale blockbusters we see are based on books, comics, previous films, or some kind of brand named intellectual property. Even Barbie (2023) and Oppenheimer (2023), the two most talked about films of the year, are based on a branded product and historical true story respectively, yet they are considered ‘original’ movies by today’s standards. There’s plenty of fresh stories in the mid to low budget range, but the idea of studios giving massive budgets to fresh ideas is a thing of the past. The only time this happens, is if the big-budget film is also a big name director’s passion project. With a personal brand attached to the concept, studios are more confident in financing these large scale, original films. The only visionary filmmakers who come to mind are Christopher Nolan and James Cameron, displaying their power with Inception (2010) and Avatar (2009). Therefore, it’s curious to see that Gareth Edwards has been given that same power with The Creator (2023), despite not being considered ‘visionary’.

Madeleine Yuna Voyles as Alphie.

Set in the year 2065, the film begins by outlining the background context, explaining that humanity has been living side by side with Artificial Intelligence for some time. The huge advancements in robotics eventually led to the creation of androids named ‘simulants’, all with their own families, laws and townships. This peace between humans and A.I. didn’t last, following the detonation of a nuclear warhead over Los Angeles. A.I. is immediately blamed for the catastrophe, resulting in a long, destructive war between the two societies. With the conflict in full swing, undercover U.S. agent Joshua Taylor (John David Washington) loses his wife Maya (Gemma Chan) and their unborn child in a military raid by Taylor’s own troops. Five years later, Joshua is given an assignment to track down and neutralise Nirmata, the mysterious creator of A.I., whom the robots also worship as a deity. Joshua is compelled to go along with this mission, as he has reason to believe that Maya is still alive, and is aligned with Nirmata. The situation is further complicated by the fact that A.I. has developed a new weapon which could turn the tide of the war, that weapon being a simulant child who Joshua names Alphie (Madeleine Yuna Voyles).

As is evident by the plot description, The Creator is an ‘original’ science-fiction story which uses the word ‘original’ rather loosely. Epic battles between A.I. and humans, with human replicants, set in a dystopian future, following a nuclear attack on humanity, are all genre tropes which have been seen time and time again. From Blade Runner (1982), to Terminator (1984), to Akira (1988), there’s not a single robotics film which The Creator isn’t drawing direct inspiration from. Science fiction cinema isn’t the only realm that Edwards references throughout The Creator, as various plot elements are borrowed and remixed from the likes of Paper Moon (1973), Apocalypse Now (1979) and Rain Man (1988). While this certainly makes the film feel very derivative, it’s not without its charm, given that director Gareth Edwards clearly has a passion for these points of inspiration and isn’t trying to hide his influences.

Gemma Chan as Maya.

What makes The Creator interesting beyond its mess of influences, is how it visualises the story concepts, both with the designs and set pieces. We’ve seen plenty of robots, spaceships, and ray guns, yet Edwards manages to deliver them all in a way which feels realistic, practical and tangible, without losing their otherworldly spectacle. There’s even a handful of technological ideas displayed throughout the story which are truly jaw-dropping, all with the potential of inspiring technology developers in the real world (just as Star Trek did once upon a time). These elements are integrated wonderfully into the believable and gritty action sequences, evoking a grounded, war-like realism. If anything, this is where you can see the mark of Edwards as a filmmaker, given that the lived-in, dirty, hands-on approach to bombastic action is what made his Star Wars film, Rogue One (2016) stand out.

The Creator‘s similarities to Rogue One also explains its biggest drawbacks. Despite many fans and critics praising Rogue One for its visuals, action sequences and dark tone (when compared to other Star Wars films), many weren’t impressed with its awkward and unfocused pacing, its nonsensical plotting, and its underwritten and emotionally disengaging characters. In that case, Edwards had the difficult task of filling in gaps to a saga which didn’t need any gaps filled, so it’s not unsurprising that Rogue One didn’t connect from a storytelling perspective. With The Creator, none of those limitations are there, so it’s interesting to see that it too has all the same flaws. These issues are arguably more apparent here, as the film aims for powerful emotional crescendos, but it can’t quite make the viewer feel that emotion. The characters say the powerful lines, they learn their emotional lessons, and the music swells, but the pieces don’t come together in a way that makes the audience care. Therefore, it’s interesting to note that Rogue One, The Creator and even Edward’s other big blockbuster Godzilla (2014), all struggle to pull on the heart strings, regardless of what’s happening on screen.

Ken Watanabe as Harun.

Fortunately, this doesn’t fully take away from the thematic layers The Creator unravels. Like any good science fiction story, we are treated to balanced discussions around the nature of reality, humanity, belief, autonomy and the right to exist. Even with the lack of emotional connectivity, these are concepts which are well handled and nicely displayed, meaning The Creator is a little more thought provoking than most recent action blockbusters. Granted, these thoughts have been provoked in far more complex ways many times before, but it may come across as revelatory to 10 year olds who’ve never seen 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)Blade RunnerThe TerminatorThe Matrix (1999), A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001) or Ex Machina (2014) to name a few. Interestingly, The Creator’s perspective on A.I. is rather positive and sympathetic, which may seem a bit out of touch given the very real fears around A.I. at the moment. Additionally, one can’t help but notice that the film is distributed by Fox, which is owned by Disney, and they’ve made no secret of how they wish to one day use A.I. to replace workers in the creative arts. Yes, the film is just a nice story about a human learning to love A.I., but the possible agenda behind the script is hard to ignore.

With that in mind, one does wonder if A.I. had anything to do with the film as a scripting level, as there’s very little that’s particularly surprising or unexpected from each story beat. As you’re going along, you find yourself saying the exact lines of dialogue before they are spoken, or you’ll be (correctly) guessing all of the biggest reveals long before they occur. With all the effort put into the production design, visual effects, action sequences, thematic talking points and performances, it’s somewhat frustrating that the same effort wasn’t directed to the storytelling. The narrative isn’t weak per se, and had the potential to be highly compelling, but the many derivative influences rippled into the screenplay, resulting in a story which sometimes feels like a basic science fiction adventure with the details removed. Avatar proved that it’s possible for a clich├ęd narrative to feel fresh and exciting, but it needs a completely unique world built on top of the foundations.

A.I. Robot as A.I. Robot.

Once all is said and done, The Creator‘s highly imitative nature explains how Gareth Edwards was able to get a big studio to put their confidence behind an ‘original’ story. While it may seem like The Creator’s existence is a big win for fresh ideas in Hollywood, it may actually prove the exact opposite. However, that fact doesn’t completely take away the film’s merits, as it’s still a relatively fun, well made and visually gorgeous science fiction epic with some interesting things to say. 

6/10

Best way to watch it: After typing into ChatGPT “write me a science fiction film” and then comparing the results to this film.

The Creator Poster.
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Robert Fantozzi

Passionate filmmaker. Proud Italian-South African. Total Nerd.

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