The Creator (2023) Review
A VISUALLY STUNNING
SCI-FI ACTION BLOCKBUSTER
Stories of artificial intelligence have always been at the forefront of science fiction inspired narratives; sparking ideas of revelations and consequences of bringing to life robotic automatons. Bridging futuristic technology and with sometimes philosophical idealism, tales of artificial intelligence showcase the cautionary and mentality takes on such constructs; projecting the existence of computer programmed creation with bestowed self-awareness / sentient consciousness that’s usually shows the pros and cons of such science. The questionable morals also give rise to their respective characters; examining of “playing god” persona that can bring revelation to such universal discoveries or render them in turmoil with dire consequences. Given this fascination with A.I, Hollywood has certainly taken this idea and created both original and / or adapted feature films for this science fiction narrative, with such famous films being 1982’s Blade Runner, 1995’s Ghost in the Shell, 1999’s The Matrix, 2004’s I, Robot, 2001’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence, 2015’s Chappie, and 2015’s Ex Machina, and 2020’s Archive just to name a few. Now, 20th Century Fox (in association with Regency Entertainment) and director Gareth Edwards present the latest cinematic sci-fi take on A.I. ideas with the movie The Creator. Does the film take the “deep dive” into the artificial intelligence and sci-fi ingenuity or is it just a run-of-the-mill story that is missing the “human connection” amongst such lofty idealisms?
In the future, artificial intelligence has paved the way for ingenuity and advancements of technology to all. This includes the rise to the creation of Simulants, humanoid robots, who have become “more human than human”. However, after a nuclear blast that was set off in Los Angeles by them, the West decides to ban the technology, fearing it will strike again against humanity. Meanwhile, in the republic of New Asia, A.I. robotics and Simulants have sought sanctuary there, with the military might of the West seeks to end the mechanic constructs, with their colossal overlord warship NOMAD that is looking snuff out pockets of resistance as well as looking for the elusive mastermind leader of the A.I. named Nimrata. Meanwhile, a man named Sgt. Joshua Taylor (John David Washington) was preparing to welcome a baby into the world with his partner, Maya (Gemma Chan), but military forces interrupted such prospects, with Joshua believe his love was killed during a raid attack. Years later, Joshua has been pulled back into duty by General Andrews (Ralph Ineson) and Colonel Howell (Allison Janney) on a mission in New Asia to find and destroy a superweapon that the A.I. have created. What Joshua discovers is a young child, Alphie (Madeline Yuna Voyles), coming to the realization that the powerful girl knows of Maya and could possibly know where she is. Safeguarding Alphie from pursuing human forces and evading capture from local law enforcement, Joshua gets entangled in the Simulant defense, exposed to a new understanding of life amongst such creations and the price of freedom on Earth.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Borrowing my opening paragraph (and this one) from my review of 2020’s Archive….. While I do like fantasy over sci-fi, tales of science fiction still definitely intrigue me, especially with ones that involve the creation of robots and of artificial intelligence. As one can surmise, some cinematic tales can provide some of the more straightforward constructs of A.I.; such as prime candidates can stem from the Terminator movies or something like an old B-rated sci-fi flick. However, ones that interest me more are the more philosophical / psychology narratives. Movies like Ghost in Shell, Chappie, and Ex Machina are such prime examples as well as Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence (a bit long and bizarre, but really good). Of course, Hollywood has taken such strong ideas within this concept narrative that certainly translates well into their sci-fi films (i.e. like the ones mentioned above), but they’ve also taken A.I. stories for a more different approach…. like in the 2015 superhero blockbuster Avengers: Age of Ultron or in more off-beat / comedy endeavor such as 2013’s Her and 2019’s Jexi. Regardless, the narratives found within artificial intelligence generates curious intrigue from both its fascination of science fiction elements and in the possibility of the near future.
Of course, this brings me back around to talking about The Creator, a 2023 sci-fi action film and the latest feature film to tackle the usage of A.I. intelligence. I can’t remember exactly when it was (I think first half of last year) when I first heard about this movie, with the film being promoted as a big science fiction film that was to be directed by Gareth Edwards, the mind behind Rogue One, and with actor John David Washington being attached as the lead role for the upcoming film. From that alone, I was definitely interested in seeing this movie. When the film’s movie trailer was released online, I was immediately in love with it, with the showcased footage from the movie looking to be exciting and quite riveting. After that, I did keep on seeing the preview many times during the “coming attractions” previews when I would go to the movies throughout the entire summer months, with the trailer being attached to a lot of the blockbuster-esque variety. So, the idea of the movie was always on my mind. Even more so, that the trailer itself looked fantastic and promised a lot of sci-fi action entertainment. Thus, I was very eager to see The Creator when it was set to be released on September 29th, 2023. I did actually see the movie on its opening day, but I decided to a few days after, to get my review out for this movie. And what did I think of it? Well, I actually liked it. Despite some well-too familiar tropes and a slightly derivate plot, The Creator is a solid sci-fi action feature that is visually stunning to behold and has some good world building nuances throughout this cinematic endeavor. It’s not the quintessential sci-fi feature of A.I. examination, but it is still quite entertaining and feast for the eyes to behold.
The Creator is directed by Gareth Edwards, whose previous directorial works includes such films like Monsters, Godzilla, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Given the success that he had achieved from Rogue One, I was curious to see what Edwards’s next film was going to, with this movie marking his return to the director’s chair since his 2016 endeavor. To his credit, I think that Edwards very much succeeds with this endeavor and, while it may not outshine what he did with Rogue One, it still is quite compelling and cineamtic to watch. To be sure, the tale being told in The Creator isn’t the most ingenious plot device (more on that below), but Edwards certainly knows how to creatively present this familiar narrative of artificial intelligence to make both informative and appealing to address such sci-fi material. Of course, the movie’s themes of tackling the subject of humanity as well as A.I. conscience understanding and political / military involvement are the feature’s “bread and butter”, with Edwards conjuring up some moments where character’s reflect upon such nuances as well as ethical inner turmoil that plays upon the various characters. Additionally, the action in the movie is quite enticing and definitely carries a lot of weight (bombastic and emotional) within those sequences. It’s not as “full throttle” as some viewers might be hoping for, but I quite enjoyed the balance of action and drama in the film and gives a more cohesive story presentation, with neither one feeling intrusive towards one another. Still, the overall execution and staging of such actions scenes definitely work in my opinion and lend credence towards the film’s world of warfare tactics and military dominance playfield. Thus, Edwards should be praised for that.
The film’s script, which was penned by Edwards and Chris Weitz, delves into the classic territory, but comes with an expansive story that’s full of familiar tropes as well as some original ideas. I personally wouldn’t say that the script was the most original sci-fi to date, but it was still far better than a lot of science fiction endeavors that deal with “humans vs. A.I. robots” of late. Of course, there is definitely a layer of sophistication that Edwards / Weitz does with the story The Creator, which helps the movie stand apart from blockbuster projects that are heavy visuals and “big, dumb” popcorn entertainment. There is human emotion and character drama that is interjected in the narrative, which the script helps presented and elevates the stakes as well as exploration of A.I.’s creation having a soul / personality. Naturally, this isn’t no Ghost in the Shell or Ex Machina that fully goes “in-depth” into the psychosis of artificial intelligence, but (again) it’s more than what I was expecting and better than some sci-fi action movies that explore such themes of identity. Could it have been better? Of course….as I’ll go more into detail about its faults, but, for the positives, I was still happy with The Creator’s story and how the movie played out.
Plus, I do find it interesting how the movie ends on a somewhat ambiguous note. Well, perhaps it isn’t ambiguous as in being deary or unclear, but it’s not a concrete and / or definitive ending, with (of course) the possibility to continue onward with a potential sequel. To be sure, I did like the ending and I like how it concludes, which is why I bring this up and how it is left open-ended for a possible continuation or (at the very least) left open for interpretation by the viewer. Overall, I felt that Edwards did a great job in bringing his vision of this cinematic story to life in way that’s both creatively done and entertaining within its sci-fi blockbuster visuals, while also retaining a quality of sophistication to the central drama to make for an engaging viewing experience.
Of course, what definitely helps with The Creator’s entertainment value is found within the film’s world building aspect and how much detail that Edwards presented. Unlike how Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was presented within the context of the Star Wars franchise (following its rules and landscape within a galaxy far, far, away), Edwards helps blend a sense of Earthly realism and sci-fi nuances together in a way that certainly “harmonizes” with each other to make for a fantastical mixture. In truth, The Creator’s film world definitely seems believable and attainable in the not too distant future of Earth, with the usage of real-world reminders of villages and cities that offer an Asian cultural representation (the primary setting for most of the film is in New Asia)as well architecture layouts, designs, and motifs, but also show certain type of futuristic aesthetic to make for reach for the science fiction realm. Moreover, the setting and world building projections feels real due to the fact that the movie’s story plays at part within its presentation, with the provided context and understanding of its mechanics and purposes feeling concrete to further bring us (the viewers) into this world. For me, the world building aspect is brought to life while seeing the merging of real-life actors, practical locations / props, and CGI renderings to help bridge the particular gap of between modern reality to sci-fi future, with either one overpowering one another or discrediting. Plus, I do like the idea of the simulants in the movie by feeling like the next progressive state of robotic evolution that is combined with humanoid likeness and synthetics. Again, it’s a more practical presentation rather than being the sleek chrome metallic or just a hodgepodge construct. In the end, the point I’m trying to drive home is that The Creator’s world feels real and practical by having the right amount of laws, rules, and explanations throughout many nuances to make for one of the strongest highlights that the movie presents.
From a visual presentation stand, The Creator is a quite the stunning piece of cinematic achievement with such elegant and effects that help build the film’s sci-fi setting in way that’s truly heightened and breathtaking to behold. To be sure, Edwards smartly utilizes the film’s production budget the correct way, with the movie only costing $80 million dollars. While that might sound like a little, especially given the incredible numbers that mainstream Hollywood studios give to their blockbuster productions, the end result works incredibly well, with Edwards and his team capitalizing on what makes the movie work and gives “life” to this futuristic world that feels organic and life-like, yet also feeling fanciful within science fiction realm. For its’ visual effects, the computer generated renderings of such sci-fi aspects and nuances are a wonder to behold, which (again) is amazing to see done on such a relatively low blockbuster production budget against today’s market. From robotics simulant renderings to futuristic style of warfare, the level of visual effects that the movie offers is definitely a treat for the eyes to see and (to me, at least) does go beyond the industry standards of presentation for visual effects. Definitely amazing to see and helps create that “immersive” sci-fi experience in The Creator’s cinematic world.
Coinciding with that notion, the movie’s more “practical” effect are also solid across the board and deliver another interesting aspect to the feature’s presentation. Naturally, the visual effects help sell the more “fantastical” moments of the feature, the usage of some realistic (concrete) designs are heavy utilized the correct way to help make the movie’s narrative feel “grounded” in reality rather than just a generic sci-fi endeavor. As one can imagine, the film’s “behind the scenes” key players, including James Clyne (production design), Claire Levinson-Gendler (set decorations), Jeremy Hanna (costume designs), and the entire art direction team, should be praised for their valiant efforts in bring this sci-fi world to life in such a way that feels both real and otherworldly futuristic at the same time, which is always a good thing. Additionally, the cinematography work by Greig Fraser and Oren Soffer definitely is something worth noting about as a positive, with such dynamic camera angles and dramatic shots of shadowing and lighting, which helps bolsters the “cinematic” feel for the feature.
Also, I have mention the sound editing, which is something I usually don’t do, but (of late) I’ve noticed that a lot of blockbuster endeavors have utilized some amazing sound editing / mixing work that helps catapult the feature’s presentation. This is why I bring it up in this review as the sound design for The Creator is quite well-rounded from start to finish. Bullets and explosions and other manner of sci-fi sound effects are bombastic and explosive, while dialogue moments are clear to hear. Lastly, the film’s score, which was composed by Hans Zimmer, is relatively good throughout the movie. I might sound a bit “disappointed” because I was expecting a lot more from Zimmer, especially after hearing his amazing soundtrack score from 2021’s Dune (as well as his other past works). The music itself is good, but nothing grand or completely memorable from such a illustrious film composer. It definitely gets the job done and the music towards the climatic third act is quite amazing to listen (hypes up the tension and dramatics). I don’t know….maybe it’s just me. Still, for better or worse, Zimmer’s score for The Creator is good at best and I’ll take that.
Unfortunately, The Creator does have a few particular elements that aren’t quite ironed out the correct way, which results in the film having some points of criticisms. How so? Well, for the starters, the one that many viewers will probably point out is how derivate the movie’s plot is. To be sure, Edwards does make the attempt to have the film feel more original than other endeavors of the same genre, which (to his credit) certainly does. That being said, there are particular familiars and commonplace tropes that are almost customary to both sci-fi films that talk about artificial intelligence. For example, the movie follows the journey of an adult male and a young child robotic child (slightly similar to 2001’s A.I.), the human-like synthetic human constructs (Blade Runner) as well as borrowing the line “more human than human” from that feature, a final showdown aboard an orbital space station (Elysium) as well as a few others. Is it a “deal breaker” for me, not exactly. However, because of this, the movie feels a tad derivate to similar projects out there.
In conjunction with this, the movie does feel rushed in a few areas. After doing some research, I found out that Edward’s original cut for The Creator was nearly five hours in length, which has been cut down over half of that to a more leaner 133 minutes (two hours and thirteen minutes). What was cut? Who can say, but it’s obvious that certain sequences were trimmed down and with some “hurried” transition between them to get everything moving along. This can be clearly felt in latter half of the second act and the beginning of the third act, with events happening rather fast and in a rushed manner, which (presumably) removed sequences to the cutting room floor. Don’t get me wrong….the movie’s final cut is still viewable and retains the core fundamentals of the feature’s narrative, but it’s crystal clear that some things were “lost” during the editing process and one could only ponder what the original cut of the movie would be? Longer? More human drama? More world building? More depth into the film’s philosophy?
Lastly, as a minor point of criticism, another problem that the movie faces is in its world building or rather the full extent of how the world building nuances are ultimately utilized in the feature. As I mentioned above, the world building aspect for The Creator is pretty good and helps build upon a film’s near future world in a very organic and realistic way. That being said, there are few elements of the movie’s world building that aren’t brought to the foreground as much as intended. Much like 2013’s Elysium, another sci-fi feature that has good world building, Edwards struggles to fully encompass such lofty and ambitious ideas of the state of world that his narrative takes place in. What I mean is….there’s a lot of unanswered and / or unexplored questions and ideas that aren’t fully addressed by the time reaches its conclusion. The movie says “the West” has banned A.I. technology and the Republic of New Asia is the last bastion stronghold where simulants find safe haven against humanity. So, what exactly is “the West”? The US? Europe? The United Nations? What’s the political feeling on other continents and countries? Why can NOMAD, a mega sized overseer dreadnought-esque ship that the U.S. military constructed, have jurisdiction in New Asia? Why is nothing stopping them? What’s New Asia’s views on the U.S. military might against simulants? Why did Nimrata give personalities to the simulants? Why did humanity give “human-like conditions” to A.I.? There’s a lot more questions like that, but you get the point. The movie might address these in small capacities, but it’s one of those “blink and you miss” type scenarios. It’s not a deal breaker, of course, but I just kind of wished that there could’ve been more world building aspects (fully) to flesh out these certain details….to enrich The Creator’s sci-fi world.
The cast for The Creator is solid all the way through, with the assembled acting talent to play these characters (both major and minor) are up for the challenge and task for some these portrayals believable and organic. Some have criticized that the character themselves could’ve been written better (more in-depth) of which I would agree, but, for what it’s worth, I found them to be enjoyable and well-rounded enough to get the job without sacrificing their importance to the narrative. Headlining the movie is actor John David Washington, who plays the film’s main protagonist character of Joshua Taylor, a U.S. military sergeant who is sent on a mission to find out what the simulants are creating for the “superweapon” as well as the ongoing identity of the elusive Nimrata. Known for his roles in Amsterdam, BlackKklansman, and Tenet, Washington, much like his father (Denzel), has always been a capable actor and definitely can handle himself in whatever capacity (i.e. definitely has the screen presence). Thus, having him play such a role like Joshua Taylor is almost a “tailored made” role for Washington as he easily slides into the part with dignity and believability. As Joshua, Washington is given enough material to help sell the plight, dilemma, and overall urgency of his mission that he must undertake, which allows for a more dynamic portrayal of a character that could’ve been performed rather straightforward and generic. Plus, his backstory for his character is indeed memorable. It’s not the most original, but it’s still compelling to watch and how it unfolds throughout his journey in the film. In the end, I think that Washington was a great fit for the movie and certainly made Joshua Taylor multi-faceted character you want to root for in the picture.
Behin Washington’s Joshua, the movie’s secondary / co-lead star of the feature undoubtedly goes to young actress Madeleine Yuna Voyles as Alphie, a child robotic simulant with the ability to remotely control technology and acts as the “key” to winning the war. Making her theatrical debut with this film, Voyles is quite the capable young actress that powerful and commanding when on-screen. Unlike most child talent, Voyles doesn’t overact or overreach her mark when trying to portray Alphie. In truth, she demonstrates a great performance from a child actor. Naturally, the character doesn’t have emote a lot, especially in the first act when she introduced, but her performances shines through as the film’s progresses forward gradually. I thought she did a fantastic job. Plus, her on-screen chemistry interaction with Washington was great, which definitely help sell the relationship between Alphie and Joshua.
The film does have several important main supporting players in the movie that help bolster the characters of both Joshua and Alphie throughout the picture. Perhaps the one that stands out the most would definitely have to be actress Gemma Chan (Eternals and Crazy Rich Asians) as Maya Fey-Taylor, Joshua’s wife who he is looking for throughout the movie. I’ve personally always liked Chan as an actress and she certainly does fit quite well in The Creator and in her character. She doesn’t get as much screen time as I was hoping for, with most of her scenes bookending the movie as well as flashback sequences, but her involvement in the way (via Maya) is well worth it. Behind her, actress Allison Janney (The West Wing and Mom) delivers a very convincing (and almost surprising) commanding role as Colonel Howell, a U.S. Army colonel who recruits Joshua on the expedition in the film and becomes an adversary as the story progresses. I was quite shocked to see Janney, who is mostly known for her comedy roles, in this film, but I found her portrayal of Howell to be compelling and believable, especially when considering her character backstory. Definitely a good fit for the character. Next, actor Ken Watanabe (Inception and The Last Samurai) does a solid job in playing the role of Harun, a simulant soldier in New Asia and one that has close ties to both Joshua and Maya. Watanabe has always been a “fan favorite” actor of mine and everything he’s in is good (well, the movie might not be, but his character is always memorable because of him). Such is the case with his character of Harun, who is a solid supporting character, with Watanabe bring enough theatrical boldness (and subtlety) to the proceedings, which is always terrific. Lastly, while not as much screen presence as the other ones in this category, actor Sturgill Simpson (The Hunt and Killers of the Flower Moon) does a good job in the smaller (yet important) character role of Drew, Taylor’s former comrade and best friend, who aides him and Alphie on their journey.
The rest of the cast, including actor Amar Chadha-Patel (Willow and The Third Day) as a citizen of New Asia who has donated his likeness to multiple simulants in the movie such as characters Omni, Sek-on, and Sergeant Bui, actress Veronica Ngo (The Old Guard and Bright) as Drew’s simulant girlfriend Kami, actor Ralph Ineson (The Green Knight and The Witch) as U.S. Army general who recruits Taylor General Andrews, actor Marc Menchaca (Ozark and The Outsider) as U.S. Army solider in Taylor’s squad McBride, actor Robbie Tann (Mare of Eastown and Black Mirror) as U.S. Army solider in Taylor’s squad Shipley, and actor Michael Esper (Trust and Ben is Back) as the captain of Taylor squad Cotton, make up the remaining characters in the film as minor supporting players. Naturally, while their limited screen time doesn’t give them much depth or character growth, the acting talent involved are definitely up to the task and make for some good small side characters in the movie.
As the war between humans and simulants nears its conclusion, Sergeant Joshua Taylor is called back into duty, embarking on a mission to find a “superweapon” to help end the conflict, yet discover there is more to it than what he bargained for in the movie The Creator. Director Gareth Edwards’s latest film takes the classic nuances of “humans vs. robots” and puts in new and bold spin that, while not exactly original, still feels both exciting and enticing from the get-go, especially against some of the latest Hollywood blockbusters of late. While the movie is held back with some derivate plot elements and not expanding enough within some other nuances, the project is a spectacular undertaking that definitely works, with notable thanks from Edward’s direction, some great world building, an amazing visual presentation, and a solid cast across the board, especially Washington and Voyles. Personally, I liked this movie. Yes, there were a few areas where the movie needed a better storyboarding / script process as well as some derivate moments, but, on the whole, I felt like the movie was quite engaging and entertaining from start to finish. Definitely felt like a blockbuster endeavor, yet still had more potency and captivating conviction to make a solid viewing experience. I don’t think it’s Edwards best work (that still belongs to Rogue One: A Star Wars Story), but I would say that stands right behind as his second best work. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is a “highly recommended” one, especially for fans of sci-fi blockbuster action flicks and / or those who are looking for a better movie out of late from Hollywood (i.e. those who are tried of sequels and franchise tentpoles). There has been some talk of this movie being the start of film series and, while I do welcome that idea and already began to speculate on such notions of what narrative could be, I think that there would have to be a strong plot to make for a compelling sequel. As it stands, I think that this film can stand on its own merits without a sequel prospect or franchise tag. In the end, The Creator, while delving into all-too familiar territory a few times, is a visually stunning science fiction feature that mixes both character, action, drama, and the philosophical conversation of artificial intelligence for an alluring and cinematic motion picture.
4.2 Out of 5 (Highly Recommended)
Released On: September 29th, 2023
Reviewed On: October 5th, 2023
The Creator is 133 minutes long and rated PG-13 for violence, some bloody images and strong language