As the creator of the only good Star Wars film in decades, Rogue One, writer/director Gareth Edwards presumably had a blank cheque for whatever he wanted to do next, but spent wisely. As a master of scale, Edwards brings something fairly unique to the table; his films have a grand appearance, but one forged in an original way. As with his breakthrough, Monsters, Edwards seems to have worked specifically with locations that fit his narrative, then worked backwards to set the action of his drama within them. This worked brilliantly in terms of creating a dystopian world for Monsters, and the trick is further refined to impressive effect in The Creator, a sci-fi epic about AI that, if there’s any justice, should appeal to mainstream audiences starved of intellectual fare.
John David Washington plays US ex-special forces operative Joshua who we initially find relaxing with some tunes and Maya (Gemma Chan) his pregnant girlfriend. But Joshua is working undercover, and when his cover is blown, he loses contact with Maya and his unborn child. Years later, Joshua is tasked with a mission; to track down The Creator, an AI entity which has engineered a weapon which could end the on-going humans vs AI conflict, and takes the form of a child. Joshua locates and rescues the kid, but their journey to salvation proves to be spectacularly difficult as various forces converge on the fleeing twosome…
Sci-fi movies are ten a penny, but smart efforts like The Creator are few and far between; Edwards gets the visuals right, but also the pacing and narrative turns are well wrought within a tight two hour running time. As with Rogue One, Edwards locates the emotional centre in the relationships, specifically between soldier and child, and the future-tech is outstanding, with remarkable set-pieces including a US military attack on a jungle AI stronghold that’s just breath-taking to look at. And rather than just terming AI as an unidentifiable big-bad villain, Edwards presents a far more complex world, with a sobering ground-zero in LA identified as the place where AI set off a nuclear bomb, although there’s doubt cast on this narrative later in the film. The AI world, with synthetic humans and various weird vehicles and weapons to navigate, is brilliantly realised, and should provide fan-boys with all the sci-fi thrills that seemed to have dropped abruptly off the schedule when Dune 2 vanished.
On a frugal $80 million budget, and working with a jaw-dropping 2.76.1 ultra-wide aspect ratio, The Creator is worth putting up there with the likes of Blade Runner, 12 Monkeys, The Matrix, Moon, Interstellar or Arrival on the list of ground-breaking, cool sci-fi movies, one with heart and meaning as well as the expected razzle-dazzle. With elements of other films, from Apocalypse Now to Paper Moon skilfully integrated into an original, satisfying story, The Creator is easily one of the best films of 2023, and one which deserves repeated viewings. While Hollywood wrestles with the promise and the threat of AI, Edwards has created an epic journey that’s both classic Hollywood and something edgy and new, and the largest possible gold watch should be headed his way for his own creative endeavours.
Thanks to 20th Century Studios UK for big screen access. The Creator hits UK screens on Sept 28, US on Sept 29th 2023.