In this day and age of franchises — I’m looking at you, Star Wars and Marvel — an original property really stands out. Case in point: The Creator, which was written and directed by Gareth Edwards (Rogue One, Godzilla). Set in a not-too-distant future torn apart by war between humans and AI, The Creator follows an ex-soldier who is recruited to hunt down the AI’s creator, and discovers a powerful new weapon that could end the war… and mankind.
Visually, The Creator looks very promising, with a lived-in aesthetic to its futuristic setting à la 2009’s District 9. (The film did stir up some controversy for using footage from the 2020 Beirut explosion in its trailer, however.) And the film’s cast, which includes John David Washington, Gemma Chan, Allison Janney, and the always-great Ken Watanabe, is promising, too.
So does The Creator live up to its potential? Or is it yet another film that ends up retreading the old and familiar? Read on for a collection of critics’ reactions and reviews, both positive and negative.
What makes The Creator unique is its balance between escapist blockbuster fun and downbeat war-is-hell naturalism. Make no mistake, it’s a science-fiction action movie, with its share of heroic deeds, laser-gun shoot-outs, and terrifyingly vast spacecraft with engines that make the cinema seats judder. But it’s also hard-edged and dark, with smoky, hazy visuals, an upsettingly brutal tendency to kill characters just as you’re getting to know them, and a reasonable adherence to the laws of physics.
Unlike District 9’s more straightforward parallel between aliens and apartheid, The Creator ends up equating AI with the general South and Southeast Asian population, with “New Asia” appearing to be a collection of countries including Vietnam, Tibet, Thailand, and India. In broad strokes, this seems like a profound — even bold — commentary on the bloody legacy of U.S. imperialism… the American characters are ruthless and cruel, like capital “E” evil reflections of Michael Bay’s swaggering jingoism of the early aughts. Starry supporting cast members like Allison Janney… are reduced to cold-blooded villains to remind us that America bad! Which is totally well and good, if it weren’t for the unfortunate Vietnam War imagery the film stumbles into.
So, is AI illegal or not? It’s not worth wasting too much brain power on the movie’s many plot holes, since the “twist” is that AI isn’t bad after all. Humans are. The robots want peace. Only humans want to destroy. As in James Cameron’s Avatar, the villains here are the growling warmongers who can’t see that their adversaries have souls.
Godzilla and Rogue One director Gareth Edwards returns with an original (albeit derivative) science fiction vision: the story of a future war between man and machine, as told through the bond that develops between, well, a man and a child-sized machine. As pure spectacle, The Creator is often jaw-dropping in its imagery, its relatively frugal special effects, and the detailed depth of its futuristic design. It’s shakier as drama and sci-fi — and in its sentimental depiction of synthetic humans just trying to live their synthetic lives, a bit out of step with the anxieties of our increasingly AI-dominated age.
Once audiences see how The Creator was shot, they’ll be begging Hollywood to close the book on blockbuster cinema’s ugliest and least transportive era. And once executives see how much (or how little) The Creator was shot for, they’ll be scrambling to make good on that request as fast as they possibly can. Say goodbye to $300 million superhero movies that have been green-screened within an inch of their lives and need to gross the GDP of Grenada just to break even, and say hello — fingers crossed — to a new age of sensibly budgeted multiplex fare that looks worlds better than most of the stuff we’ve been subjected to over the last 20 years while simultaneously freeing studios to spend money on the smaller features that used to keep them afloat. Can you imagine?
It’s an exciting film… that introduces a brand-new, impeccably designed world, doing so with such confidence that as soon as it gracefully spreads itself onto the giant screen you buy all its elements inside and out, no questions asked. In other words, The Creator instantly feels like a classic old-school sci-fi escapade delivering a thrillingly gorgeous ride, one that is immersive and handsome enough to hide the film’s escalating thematic dubiousness about artificial intelligence elsewhere.
The Creator is periodically clunky. Washington swings from stiff to charismatic alongside the film’s quality of dialogue and tone. It’s also a film that is unexpectedly very funny for 15 minutes and then almost never again. But Edwards presents himself as an ideas-on-his-sleeve kind of guy, who’s invested in readdressing the meaning behind some of the most commonplace sci-fi imagery.
The script might have glaring flaws and painfully ambiguous morals, but The Creator is a truly remarkable piece of original science fiction storytelling. Even when it borrows from ideas established in films that preceded it, Edwards manages to make it feel fresh and new. The Creator is a beautifully crafted, albeit imperfect, science-fiction thriller that tries to unravel what it means to be a good human in a bad world.
Now, it’s not like all movies make me cry, but it’s very clear watching The Creator that this one wants you to. At its core, it’s about a man giving up everything to defend a child. There are powerful feelings there! Feelings of love, sacrifice, joy, legacy, hope, etc. And yet that aspect of the movie, the one about the man and the child, can’t measure up to everything around it. It’s in there. Director Gareth Edwards and his team do everything in their power to craft those tear-worthy moments. It just never connected for me on that level, which is a shame because, in seemingly every other way, it does connect. The Creator is a beautifully made, highly entertaining sci-fi adventure that just can’t get its heart right.
Despite having the look of robust action / adventure and impressive set pieces to spare, The Creator feels like it has very little to say outside of rehashing a handful of the man versus killer (but maybe friend) robot genre’s bigger tropes.
Ultimately, The Creator proves to be greater than the sum of its influences or parts, delivering incisive, insightful political art embedded in big-budget, action-oriented sci-fi entertainment. Entertainment and politics aside, The Creator also doubles as a poignant, unironic plea for cross-cultural, cross-ideological empathy and compassion.
After years of Hollywood giving us rushed, incomplete, unconvincing CGI, the film delivers an absolute special effects knockout. The movie’s artificial intelligence robots look completely real. As do the advanced technology and large-scale settings that populate the futuristic world of the film. It’s hard to see the proverbial seams between VFX, actual actors, and practical effects. And if The Creator‘s story and dialogue were even half as good as its aesthetics it would be a truly great sci-fi entry. Unfortunately they’re not even close to that, and they result in an entertaining but frustrating tale bogged down by trite concepts, underdeveloped and underutilized ideas, and a clunky script.
The Creator premiered at this year’s Fantastic Fest and arrives in theaters on September 29. Watch the trailer below.