The Creator is an awesome experience. The best original sci-fi I’ve seen in years, with a rich, full world just dying to be explored, stunning cinematography, and a human vs AI storyline that is familiar but rewarding. Gareth Edwards just can’t miss in this genre. He’s given us the best recent Star Wars movie with Rogue One, and now this, too.
After a tumultuous Lucasfilm experience, Edwards took some time away from filmmaking. Getting away from the massive juggernaut of a galaxy far far away has done him good. Reteaming with Rogue One writer Chris Weitz, Edwards has created something unique yet eerily familiar. A gripping morality tale and heartfelt exploration of the connection between humanity and AI, at a time when AI is beginning to dominate our lives, The Creator staggers with the depth of its story and dynamic visuals.
The opening moments do feel a bit familiar, as the world we know begins to adopt artificial intelligence as part of everyday life. Of course, this leads to disaster; a nuclear detonation on the West Coast leads to America adopting a kill-or-be-killed stance against all AI. But we are practically alone in this as other countries, particularly New Asia see AI as sentient beings, and destroying them the equivalent to genocide.
John David Washington stars as Joshua, an ex-special forces agent haunted by the death of his wife Maya (Gemma Chan) while he was undercover investigating her ties to a mysterious AI rebel leader. It’s that same connection which is preyed upon by his former commander, Howell (Allison Janney), who enlists him for a dangerous mission to infiltrate enemy forces, terminate their leader, Nirmata, and destroy a new weapon with the power to win the war decisively by destroying all of mankind. But when Joshua discovers what this weapon truly is, it’s not just some simple machine. Instead, it’s an AI in the form of a little girl, nicknamed Alfie (Madeleine Yuna Voyles), and he just can’t bring himself to kill her.
Well, that and she is the only one who knows where to find Nirmata.
Of course, the heart and soul of The Creator is Joshua’s internal conflict. Does he save all of humanity by killing this child? Following the orders he’s been trained all of his life to follow? Or does he protect the very weapon he was sent to destroy, saving humanity but giving up all hope of ever finding happiness again? To the screenplay’s credit, this is no simple emotional journey for either Joshua or Alfie. There is hardly a moment for either to catch a breath and ponder the situation. In true Lone Wolf & Cub fashion (or The Mandalorian for some of you new sci-fi geeks out there), Joshua transports Alfie all across New Asia from one hot spot to another, from peasant villages populated with AI monks to bustling futuristic vistas straight out of Blade Runner. At each stop, there are fire fights, explosions, and the looming threat of an overhead space station that wipes out every AI stronghold it finds.
Edwards puts a lot of faith in his audience to pick up on the cues, showing the growing bond between Joshua and Alfie. We don’t need a long, drawn-out scene where he explains his attachment to the child. When the situation counts, Joshua does what is in his gut to do. And the same goes for Alfie, who is learning about this world she has been kept hidden from, and unknowingly designed to obliterate. The Creator mixes blazing action and emotional connection, all of it keeping you on the edge of your seat.
Shot largely in Thailand, The Creator has a very naturalistic look blending mountains, waterways, and bustling cities that seem left behind by the advancement in technology. It makes for an interesting blend with the future tech. The closest example I can think of is District 9, in that visually it seems to have its foot in both the future and the past. Some of the technology doesn’t even appear to be all that advanced. In fact, the one droid that stunned me most, a suicide bomber shaped like a trash compactor, was surprisingly mundane in construction, but terrifying in the visceral way it was filmed hurtling towards characters we’re quite concerned about!
While the sci-fi action is impressive, none of it would matter without the key performances by John David Washington and newcomer Madeleine Yuna Voyles. Washington, who makes all of the same faces as his father Denzel when trying to be serious, convincingly portrays Joshua’s struggle and evolution, from a soldier to a protector. Voyles has the difficult task of capturing Voyles’ transformation from a lonely machine into someone with hopes, dreams, and love in her heart. Janney, whose role I thought was going to be little more than a cameo, turns out to be very intimidating as Joshua’s cruel foil. A recurring plot point throughout is that the AI see, speak, and feel just like humans. Some of them have built lives independent of the war; started families. When Howell starts tearing them to pieces it hits you right in the gut.
The Creator doesn’t get everything right. Veterans of this genre will see many of the plot twists coming a mile away, and there simply isn’t enough time to tackle all of the moral questions that are raised. Hopefully, this is just an introduction that Edwards plans to follow-up with. I was totally absorbed by this opening adventure, and couldn’t help pondering what other stories could be told; what mysteries are left to be answered. This was the feeling I had the first time I saw The Matrix. It feels like the start of a big, important piece of sci-fi that will be with us for years and years, growing in significance and etching its place among the best the genre has ever seen.
The Creator opens in theaters September 29th.