The Creator review

The Creator aims to revitalize sci-fi with a spectacular, if flawed, vision of the future

3 out of 5 stars

In a landscape overloaded with I.P. franchises and reboots, it’s increasingly rare that audiences are treated to original, spectacle-oriented blockbuster films. With The Creator, director Gareth Edwards (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) makes a solid effort to revitalize the sci-fi genre with a spectacular, if flawed, vision of the future. The film is set in a dystopian world where man versus A.I. has reached new heights after an A.I. nuclear attack destroyed Los Angeles. The United States, in retribution, stripped itself of all artificial intelligence technology and has set its sights on the East, where in China, humanity and A.I. co-exist peacefully as wartime targets.

The film opens on a remote beach as Joshua (John David Washinton) and Maya (Gemma Chan) expect their first child. The light is blue and dark, the crashing of the ocean waves serving as a natural balm but also a romantic, ominous foreboding. American special forces raid their small seaside shack, and their careful world collapses all at once. Though madly in love with his wife, Joshua has been undercover in the search for a mysterious A.I. guru, and he watches as his wife dies at the hands of American forces. 

The Creator review
John David Washington in The Creator

Most of the film is set five years later. Joshua is disillusioned and broken. He’s been courted many times to return to finish the job he started, but it’s only the hope that his wife might still be alive that brings him back into the fold. In Asia, he’s now charged with finding a super-weapon that has the power to end the war and even destroy humanity. The weapon, of course, is not what one might expect, and the film’s emotional arc is about a man discovering through his interaction with non-human life what it means to be human.

A paint-by-numbers of other significant sci-fi classics, including Akira, Blade Runner and Arrival, the plot is less interesting than some of its ideas. The film works best when it examines, with a surprising level of contempt, the brutality of American invading forces. The American war against A.I. becomes an excuse for the USA to strong-arm the rest of the world into conforming to their ideological views. The soldiers sent abroad are cruel and criminal, demonstrating complete contempt for human life. Though unpopular given current dominant discourses, the film’s decision to imagine artificial intelligence as not a force for evil but a potential ally is interesting if not fully developed. At the very least, it suggests that Edwards views humanity through a lens of hope, suggesting that if our creations reflect us, their fundamental goodness means that we are also fundamentally good. 

By far, though, the film’s greatest asset is its organic and rich visual identity. The Creator immediately enters the narrow pantheon of visually spectacular blockbuster films that are almost worthwhile on their vision alone. The film feels like a stunning blend of organic and inorganic, bursting with original science-fiction design. In both rural and urban locations, the movie imagines a future where the natural world continues to exist but is enhanced (or, in some cases, blighted) by advanced technology. The film’s bluish tone and textured image lend the whole thing a dream-like quality. In a cinematic landscape that prefers glossy, artificial effects, the organic, lived-in feel of The Creator is astonishing.

The Creator review
Madeleine Yuna Voyles in The Creator

Unfortunately, part of the film’s storytelling flaws also include leaning too heavily into the othering of its Asian characters and locales. The depictions of the Asian realm feel limited and reflect a larger issue with the film’s shallow examination of its world and themes. The movie demonstrates tremendous imagination and sensitivity on a micro-level but lacks a strong sense of subtext or curiosity about the world we’re being presented. Edwards has a strong sense of instinct as a filmmaker to frame events and the world through details that help anchor his vision in a kind of reality. The world feels much larger than the universe presented.

Despite its flaws, The Creator works overall. It’s an astonishing visual spectacle with enough compelling characters to pull us through more conventional genre beats. What it lacks in storytelling, it excels in world-building. It’s a movie that will hopefully inspire a new blueprint as to what blockbusters can look like, not necessarily inspiring copycats but offering an opportunity for filmmakers to take bigger risks and imagine new and exciting worlds. ■

The Creator (directed by Gareth Edwards)

The Creator opened in Montreal theatres on Friday, Sept. 29, and is streaming now on Disney+.

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