The Creator review: Bold sci-fi vision poses new questions about AI

Rogue One director Gareth Edwards and 20th Century Studios takes a big swing, and hit a home run

John David Washington as Joshua in 20th Century Studios' THE CREATOR. Photo by Oren Soffer. © 2023 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.
John David Washington as Joshua in The Creator. (20th Century Studios)
  • 🎞️ When is The Creator out: In cinemas from 28 September

  • ⭐️ Our rating: 4/5

  • 🎭 Who's in it? John David Washington, Gemma Chan, Ken Watanabe, Sturgill Simpson, Madeleine Yuna Voyles, Allison Janney

  • 👍 What we liked: Bold world-building, stunning visual effects, and a compelling performance from John David Washington.

  • 👎 What we didn't: Some of the tropes and story beats can feel familiar.

  • 📖 What's it about? In a future war between the human race and the forces of artificial intelligence, Joshua, a hardened ex-special forces agent grieving the disappearance of his wife, is recruited to hunt down and kill the Creator, the elusive architect of advanced AI who has developed a mysterious weapon with the power to end the war… and mankind itself.

  • ⏱️ How long is it? 2 hour 13 minutes

Rogue One and Godzilla director Gareth Edwards has returned to his roots with The Creator, a dazzling new science fiction movie that is a triumph of visual effects and world building, that asks big questions about the future of humanity.

Like Edwards' Monsters before it — which saw a human couple adrift in Mexico amid an alien invasion — The Creator transports viewers into a foreign world like our own, but with subtle, alienating differences and tells the story of a protagonist navigating a hostile environment as they attempt to deliver a stranger to safety.

Madeleine Yuna Voyles as Alphie in 20th Century Studios' THE CREATOR. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2023 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.
Madeleine Yuna Voyles as Alphie in The Creator. (20th Century Studios)

The hero is Joshua (John David Washington), a former soldier enlisted by the US Army — sadly driven by the tired ‘dead wife’ trope — to help them track down a deadly new weapon, and take down the mysterious Creator – an architect for the AI, the many artificial lifeforms who live among humans in a futuristic New Asia.

Unlike ‘The Entity’ — the evil artificial intelligence (AI) of 2023’s other AI-obsessed blockbuster Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One — the AI of The Creator is less threatening, peacefully co-existing with humans in the East, but feared in the West after a devastating nuclear blast in LA decades previous.

Americans are very much the antagonists here, with a huge floating Death Star-like NOMAD ready to rain down death from above at their disposal, and Edwards draws on the iconography of the Vietnam war to drive home this message.

Evoking memories of Apocalypse Now, Blade Runner and Akira, Edwards wears his influences on his sleeve to deliver a bold and original vision that has you scanning every frame for new details.

A scene still from 20th Century Studios' THE CREATOR. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2023 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.
One of the many AI lifeforms in The Creator. (20th Century Studios)

When Joshua finally tracks down the AI's deadly new weapon, he finds it's a young child – Alphie (Madeleine Yuna Voyles) – the cutest artificial lifeform since Haley Joel Osment’s David in A.I., who brings some much-needed levity to the film as she breaks down Joshua’s emotional barriers one cheeky grin at a time.

Washington and Voyles are a disarming double act, which is helpful as the film lacks a little depth when it comes to memorable supporting characters. Alison Janney is fine as a grizzled army type, while Ken Watanabe’s Harun gets very little to do — others in Joshua's troop are so loosely sketched they become interchangeable.

Where Dead Reckoning offered a cautionary take on AI, The Creator seeks empathy for this benign and often spiritual new life force walking among us who simply want to be accepted by the humans that created them. They come in all shapes and sizes: from Chappie-like police droids, raunchy pole-dancing bots, and R2-D2-esque walking bombs, to human-looking Simulants with their distinctive robotic necks.

The AI is more empathetic than most of the humans in the film — as a piece of AI propaganda amid the doom-mongering tabloid headlines, it’s pretty effective.

A scene still from 20th Century Studios’ THE CREATOR. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2023 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.
A scene still from The Creator. (20th Century Studios)

Edwards lets the naturally stunning Asian landscapes do most of the heavy-lifting in generating wonder while ILM (Industrial Light & Magic) seamlessly augments the vistas with towering sci-fi buildings, vehicles, and robots.

Every artificial lifeform on screen feels tangible too thanks to a canny mixture of practical and visual effects. Like Rogue One before it, the action sequences have real heft, and coupled with Greig Fraser and Oren Soffer's cinematography, it all feels very real and very dangerous.

Original storytelling in blockbuster cinema is so rare these days, so any narrative qualms we have are easily overlooked. After the twin triumphs of Barbie and Oppenheimer in the summer, we hope audiences seek out The Creator next, as Hollywood needs to be reminded of the power of new stories.

The Creator opens in cinemas and IMAX on 28 September.

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