If looks could kill, The Creator would be the deadliest thing in the universe. Visually spectacular and often gripping, the new sci-fi thriller from Gareth Edwards (Star Wars: Rogue One) is a must-see on the big screen, even if it falls just short of greatness.
More impressive than the commanding visual effects is the world-building that Edwards has put to screen; within minutes of The Creator beginning, I wanted to see more than this world could offer in a single movie. The story here–about a badass soldier who infiltrates enemy territory to find and destroy a new superweapon, only to have second thoughts when he discovers the weapon is actually a AI-programmed cyborg-child–isn’t anything groundbreaking, but Edwards’ deep attention to detail nurtures a rich and fluid setting that is more fascinating than any of the characters or plot machinations.
Set several years after a horrifying incident kills millions of people, The Creator establishes a world where the West, having banned the AI that set off the bomb, is at war with New Asia, who have embraced AI and allow AI-based cyborgs to coexist peacefully and harmoniously. The U.S. has created the ultimate weapon, however, a floating starbase called NOMAD that will indiscriminately kill civilians to obtain their objectives.
It’s a gritty but not entirely implausible version of the future, a less seedy incarnation of Blade Runner but one that shares shades of its bleakness. This is a world where hope may not be lost but it has been significantly diminished, and you can see the darkness at the periphery of society.
All this said, the world of The Creator is so grand and enthralling that the story and screenplay don’t need to be perfect to work. And they are far from perfect. The story is fine but something we’ve seen many times before, even if the individual events that occur throughout the story are at times compelling. The screenplay, co-written by Edwards and Weitz, does the trick, but it’s one that lacks nuance and is the one element that holds the film back from immediately establishing itself as a sci-fi classic (anyone writing this movie off right now, however, should probably wait a few years before making any declarations). The dialogue is a little on-the-nose, the protagonist, though well performed by John David Washington (Tenet, another divisive sci-fi thriller), is predictable, and the movie’s climax feels rudimentary compared to its potential.
In fact, it’s the climax, where (minor spoiler) Washington’s Joshua and young Alphie (played phenomenally by Madeleine Yuna Voyles) seek to effectively end the war by blowing shit up, that gives me the most pause in raving about The Creator. The climax is fine, it’s entertaining, it’s even suspenseful–but it just feels like Edwards took the path of least resistance rather than trying to develop something as imaginative and powerful as the world he’s devised.
It’s that disconnect that holds The Creator back, but it’s not insurmountable. The movie may be imperfect, but there is so much great stuff here that you’d be mistaken to not see it in theaters. It’s a visual and creative feat, and if it’s true that it only cost $80 million to make, then it should be the benchmark for all other CGI-driven films that follow.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.