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  • Writer's pictureMatt Conway

The Creator: Review

The hard-hitting realities of our warmongering zeitgeist receive a dystopian sci-fi spin in “The Creator.” Science fiction remains a ripe source for meaningful societal exploration, often awarding creatives a unique canvas brimming with endless potential.

Writer/director Gareth Edwards is well aware of these confines. His 2010 debut, “Monster,” showcased impressive ingenuity for the genre, breaking the glass wall of a minuscule budget to showcase an equally enthralling and incisive feature. Hollywood quickly bestowed Edwards with big-budget projects following “Monster’s” cult success, with 2014’s “Godzilla” and 2016’s “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” showcasing a singular auteur driven by his invigorating, pie-in-the-sky vision. Both films delivered atypical blockbuster experiences driven more by grim tensions than weightless thrills.

“The Creator” marks Edwards’s most ambitious undertaking to date. It is a fascinating anomaly — an original, big-budget, adult-oriented production released amidst a Hollywood landscape loaded with known properties and easy-to-sell products. While these intriguing ingredients do not assemble the next prophetic sci-fi masterpiece, “The Creator” still captivates through its cinematic splendor and thematic courage.

Edwards’s premise blends an intriguing cocktail of real-world and familiar sci-fi ingredients. The year is 2055. Seismic improvements in artificial intelligence have pioneered an advanced future where robots serve as an integral cog in everyday life, relegated to fulfilling menial tasks deemed less desirable by humans. When a nuclear missile is accidentally triggered, killing millions, the remaining robots become pariahs hunted by an ominous U.S. war machine called NOMAD.

As the world crumbles into constant conflict, Army Sergeant Joshua Taylor is conflicted by the warring factions following an undercover operation at the robot sanctuary, New Asia. When tasked to uncover a secret weapon New Asia is developing, Joshua discovers that this supposed device for destruction is actually the first robot child, Alpha-O. Joshua and Alpha-O soon embark on a mission to restore peace to the world by destroying the sinister NOMAD.

There are blatant cinematic influences to glean from this premise, including ideas formulated in several other modern science fiction features (“District 9,” “Children of Men” and “I, Robot,” to name a few). “The Creator” simultaneously crafts an invigorating identity from these inspirations while also falling prey to the cliched contrivances lying dormant in their narrative husks.

Visually, Edwards cultivates an awe-inspiring feast for the eyes. Few big-budget directors working today can equal Edwards’s immaculate panache for world-building. Every aspect of this dystopian landscape bursts with lively details, whether it is the war-torn landscapes, the illustrative character designs or the sweeping vistas Edwards and cinematographer Greig Fraser expressively capture on camera. Edwards’s boundless imagination and technical verve skillfully enrich the narrative experience throughout.

For instance, NOMAD’s design is particularly haunting. Modeled after drone missile technology, NOMAD forebodingly hovers over New Asia, with its blue targeting systems’ silent yet sudden appearance signaling a warning sign for impending doom. The machine’s sterile white paint job and menacing size conjure a palpable unease with every appearance. I appreciate how Edwards utilizes his sprawling scale to favor meaningful storytelling over mindless spectacle. Every grisly conflict and imposing image carries a weighty burden, consistently relaying the gravity and oppressive dread of a world ensnared in endless turmoil.

Edwards’s screenplay also embraces sizable risks. “The Creator” molds its primary thematic focus from our divisive post-9/11 landscape. In the wake of tragedy, the story ruminates on how a world power weaponizes nationalistic rhetoric and intrusive privacy measures to fuel war’s coal pit against a discriminated populous. The weary robots seek solace from this hunt, yet they are caught in the crosshairs of senseless destruction. Edwards’s narrative touches upon additional meditations, such as humanity’s complex relationship with artificial intelligence and the irrational hate that drives racial division.

I always appreciate a thematic home run swing behind the plate. That said, the grander ideas in “The Creator” culminate in a mixed-bag affair. There are impactful glimmers, particularly when the film reckons with concepts through its evocative visuals. At the same time, the script lacks grace and sophistication in its approach. Far too often, didactic dialogue exchanges and shallow sentiments reduce promising material into an uneven roller coaster ride. If only the film’s brains could match its bold craftmanship.

The narrative suffers from similar inconsistencies. Star John David Washington grounds the experience through his dynamic range and commanding gravitas. Co-star Madeleine Yuna Voyles also captures an endearing wistfulness in her nuanced performance as the youthful robot Alpha-O. The pair form a lived-in relationship onscreen that displays sparks of a more profound connection.

Eventually, though, “The Creator’s” cascading wave of apparent influences becomes its Achilles heel. It can often be hard to connect with the various heart-tugging moments and sudden plot shifts because they often resonate with a familiar sense of deja vu. The expressive visuals and noteworthy ideas add a fresh perspective to the mix, although the narrative never escapes the feeling that it fumbles its full potential.

Still, “The Creator” fascinated me through its soaring highs and frustrating lows. I will always support a film that takes sizable risks, even if some of its pursuits rest outside its grasp.


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