Everyone now knows Gareth Edwards as the guy who brought back Godzilla onto the screen with style and substance in 2014 and made one of the most distinct Star Wars stories in Rogue One (2016). However, very few people know his low-budget British debut, Monsters (2010), which allowed him to use his imaginative prowess by telling a grounded and supposedly allegorical tale of war and immigration. So, if The Creator (2023) feels rather original, especially considering the kind of mainstream science fiction we have been getting for the past decade or so, you wouldn’t be alone. That, however, doesn’t take away the fact that many of its themes and set pieces are borrowed – mostly from his own films, and the overreaching ideas become convoluted and out of grasp for the director himself. That said, it also feels like a step in the right direction, a much-needed leeway from the quagmire of sequels, reboots, and superhero landings.
With The Creator, Edwards channels his love for Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979) and looks at anti-war themes wrapped in an allegory about immigrants – much like his debut film. Since this has a bigger budget than his 2010 effort, Edwards is allowed to create a mythology of his own. This story, which borrows its futuristic imagery from the likes of Blade Runner and Akira, feels grounded in faith-based mythology. The film quickly establishes that the artificial intelligence that the US government created to help them do everyday jobs was responsible for detonating a nuclear warhead in LA, California. This blast resulted in the loss of millions of lives, which led the United States and many of its allies to pledge for the eradication of AI from the face of the planet.
However, the A.I. vs. Human War did not sit right with New Asia – a country that Edwards has created for his world-building. They championed and embraced AI like their fellow human beings. This led the US to get threatened and worried about this alliance, especially when they got word of an architect named ‘Nirmata’ (a Sanskrit word that translates to The Creator) who, along with the help of the AI, is planning to build something high-tech.
Chapter one of the film introduces us to Sergeant Joshua Taylor (John David Washington), who has fallen in love and impregnated Maya (Gemma Chan) – a young woman considered to be the daughter of the Nirmata. When we first meet him, we learn that he is working undercover when an uncalled-for surgical strike by the US military takes place. The USS NOMAD (North American Orbital Mobile Aerospace Defense) – a floating space station, destroys their base, possibly killing Maya in action.
Now, the subsequent chapters fast-forward to Joshua being approached by the army again – only this time to lure him with the current news that his wife is not dead. All they want from him, in return, is to get the idea of a new high-tech secret weapon that the Nirmata has developed and possibly help their strike unit destroy it. Again, this is because the US believes that the new weapon could counter the USS NOMAD – something that the country has spent millions on. At this point, Taylor is just rummaging with the nightmares of his betrayal and wants just one last look at his wife. The mission turns south, but Taylor lands up with key info – the weapon is a young girl – a robotic simulant (a cross between a human and a robot), thus challenging Taylor’s humanity and his perception of AI itself.
Now, there’s a really noble idea at the center of The Creator. If you look at the allegory, Edwards is trying to make an interesting, hopeful, and necessary point about immigration and the lack of acceptance we have due to a need for power. Since he brings the US directly under the lens here, his story feels rather radical. However, things feel a little too awkward if you look at the superficial and basic reading. Basically, the film suggests shaking hands with AI. It’s asking us to be a little hopeful about robots and other sentinel beings that we’ve developed. In light of the current writer strike that’s going on, that plot thread doesn’t necessarily land square. Sure, there’s more to the biblical undercurrent and a solid antiwar sentiment at play, but the wobbly message here is not explored enough to really feel right.
Additionally, in spite of a great groundwork, The Creator eventually lands into cliche alien-invasion tropes where a savior protects a great weapon, takes it to point B, and then does the bigger deed. The execution is also so dreaded and bland that none of its rather breathtaking setpieces feel like they are thrilling enough to hold you with batted breaths. The overall arc where Taylor finds his humanity via his experience with a non-human becomes increasingly convoluted, and the underpinning never truly understands how to lead him to a climatic showdown.
DOPs Greig Fraser and Oren Soffer help create a visually sumptuous and original sci-fi epic, but except for young Madeleine Yuna Voyles’s beautiful smile, the film never truly feels alive.