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THE CREATOR (2023) review

November 1, 2023


written by: Gareth Edwards and Chris Weitz
produced by: Gareth Edwards, Kiri Hart, Jim Spencer & Arnon Milchan
directed by: Gareth Edwards
rated: PG-13 (for violence, some bloody images and strong language)
runtime: 133 min.
U.S. release date: September 29, 2023


After “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” and 2014’s “Godzilla”, British director Gareth Edwards had confidently established himself as someone who can deliver some great-looking large-scale science fiction movies. Although the screenplays of those two movies left something to be desired, part of the reason those two movies were hits is due to the familiarity the audience has with the material. But, for epic sci-fi movies to continue we need more original material, not just franchise-extending entries or dabblings in IP. Thankfully, that’s what Edwards delivered with the action thriller “The Creator”, taking timely subject matter and placing it in a post-apocalyptic future Earth with beautiful visuals and creative world-building.

In the year 2055, Los Angeles is devastated when artificial intelligence drops a nuclear warhead, causing Western culture to band the technology, fearing a possible repeat of such an attack. This causes conflict with New Asia (what Southern and Eastern Asia are called), which has continued to embrace the technology with the creation of humanoid robots, called Simulants (a human/robot hybrid).  Seeking to terminate Nirmata, the mysterious programmer behind the AI technology, the U.S. created NOMAD (North American Orbital Mobile Aerospace Defense), a massive spacecraft capable of launching calculated destruction below.

Joshua Taylor (John David Washington), a military sergeant and undercover operative of the U.S. Army, is planning on welcoming a baby with his partner, Maya (Gemma Chan), but when their Vietnam home is invaded by a military squad one night, Joshua believes his pregnant wife is dead after a NOMAD strike is dropped.



Five years later, a devastated Joshua finds himself pulled back into the line of duty, joining Colonel Howell (Allison Janney) and General Andrews (Ralph Ineson) on a mission in New Asia to find and destroy a superweapon the A.I. is creating. For motivation, Howell hints that Joshua’s wife could be alive and that sets Joshua off on his mission. He soon learns that the world-ending superweapon created is a young girl, who is actually a Simulant, with the ability to manipulate technology with her mind. Knowing she’s a target, Joshua is compelled to look after the girl and keep her safe, naming her Alphie (newcomer Madeline Yuna Voyles) and believing she may know what happened to Maya. The two embark on a trek to locate Maya and it’s during this time that Joshua gets wrapped up in the Simulant defense, providing him with a new understanding of humanity and freedom on Earth.

As “The Creator” starts, Joshua is a man with emotional and physical scars from the bomb that dropped on Los Angeles. That event is where he lost his parents, his brother, and two of his limbs (right leg and left arm), all casualties of the war between humans and A.I. While his limbs were replaced with detachable robotic ones, his emotional grief remains intact. Washington conveys the character’s inner turmoil well, projecting a weariness that’s understandable considering all that Joshua has gone through and the mysteries he uncovers on his latest mission. Although the ersatz father-and-daughter relationship between Josh and Alphie has been explored before in various mediums (from “Lone Wolf and Cub” to “Paper Moon”), the way it is contextualized for the genre is intriguing and the memorable visual of a young girl with a cylindrical hole in her metallic head is enough to differentiate from what has come before.



As Alphie, Madeline Yuna Voyles does a great job communicating It’s a challenging role in that it requires a child to portray a robot child experiencing a new terrain for the first time after being secluded all her life. Navigating a war-torn landscape is a confusing challenge, one that causes the Simulant girl to question what it means to be human and whether it’s an aspiration worth pursuing. She has to register the mostly violent and combative human behavior that she witnesses, not just toward other robots, but also how humans treat other humans. In her debut performance, Voyles delivers some fine work communicating her character’s understandable naivete coupled with a growing knowledge of her place in this uncertain environment. Most of the time, her expressive quietness speaks volumes.

While the story is straightforward enough – with Edwards injecting screen titles such as “The Child” to offer a semblance of structure –  it’s a challenge at times to determine who’s who and where allegiances lie and why. To flesh out perspectives, it would’ve helped to devote more time to give viewers a clearer idea of who these ancillary characters are on both sides of the war. There are other U.S. soldiers in Joshua’s squad, like McBride (Marc Menchaca) and Drew (Sturgill Simpson), and it would’ve been good to know their perspective on the climate of the ongoing war. Drew even has a simulant girlfriend, Kami (Veronica Ngô), but time with both of them is limited, which is unfortunate since it would’ve provided a different perspective on the human/robot dynamic. On the robot side of the war, there’s veteran warrior, Harun (an underutilized Ken Watanabe), someone who seems to have a prominent role in the battle, but it’s never really clear what exactly that is. Edwards and Weitz could’ve easily added some downbeat moments in between explosions and crossfires, to give the movie a chance to bring an understanding of these characters to the surface.

Instead, much like previous sci-fi entries from Edwards, more time is committed to world-building in “The Creator” and establishing what life looks like in this particular imagining of the near-future. The film’s cold opening immediately hooks us with such an approach. Edwards offers a convincing montage of faux ads and newsreel footage which serves as a way to catch viewers up to speed and and sets the stage for a grim near-future in which the symbiotic relationship between people and machines would inevitably be shattered.



There are also fascinating concepts explored that further develop how technology is used in the world of “The Creator”. One such concept is a digital mechanism used by the military to acquire crucial information. It’s a recording device that can be inserted into the neck of the recently deceased character, eerily bringing the individual back to life for an additional thirty seconds. It’s a dehumanizing way to obtain information from the deceased. We also see the military deploy these unique suicide bomb robots that sprout stilted legs and run toward their targets. These are just a couple of examples confirming how the concept artists and production designers (James Clyne also worked with Edwards on “Rogue One”) on “The Creator” have come up with a lot of cool sci-fi ideas, quite different from what we’re used to seeing in movies of this genre.

Most of “The Creator” takes place in New Asia using various locations in Thailand and Cambodia to realize locations. Greig Fraser (who also serves as a co-producer) and Oren Soffer shared cinematography duties, with the duo opting to shoot the film in the 2.76:1 ultra-wide aspect ratio on the prosumer Sony FX3 camera and that contributed to the movie costing half of what “Rogue One” cost. Due to the low-budget approach to the story, Edwards and his crew committed to a guerilla style of filmmaking, using fewer crew members and relying on natural lighting as opposed to a heavy reliance on CGI or building sets. It’s an approach similar to Tony Gilroy’s work on “Andor”, showing the benefit of a real place. No doubt, the special effects are there, but the feature feels more grounded first and foremost in a tangible world.s successfully establishing the movie environment as a real place.

While some of the action in “The Creator” seems repetitive, especially in the first half, the visuals are nevertheless magnificent and something to behold, especially on an IMAX screen. It’s a movie that warrants the theatrical experience. The visual and storyline influences from other sci-fi movies can be picked up if you’re aware of them, there’s a little “Blade Runner” and “The Terminator”, as well as “Avatar”, and “Akira”, one can even see the inspiration from other war movies, like “Apocalypse Now”, but ultimately the extraordinary way in which it realizes what it’s about is by far the most memorable aspect of the movie.



















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