Gareth Edwards is a director who never misses: from the indie delights of Monsters to his distinctive approaches to Godzilla and Star Wars, his feel for what makes fantastical universes tick is part of what makes his movies feel so unique. A Gareth Edwards film is filled with provocative thinking, humour, and phenomenally choreographed action. The Creator has all of these in spades, the best evidence yet of how well the director understands what science fiction can do for a world where dystopia can feel frighteningly close to home.
In the near future, the USA has banned AI after a devastating incident in Los Angeles (and this is no ChatGPT, but walking, talking, sentient humanoids called simulants, as well as your more typical bots). However, New Asia – a collective region in the Asian continent – continues to embrace it, so the US Armed Forces make it their mission to wipe out the existing AI threat that lingers overseas. They are assisted by the USS NOMAD, an orbital strike platform that acts as an indiscriminate angel of death, raining missiles down from the upper reaches of the atmosphere. Caught in the middle is Sergeant Joshua Taylor (John David Washington), who has been tasked with destroying an AI-produced weapon that threatens to bring the US Forces to their knees – a young AI child (Madeleine Yuna Voyles) with the power to remotely control technology.
The past twelve months has seen the growth of AI at what is for some an alarming rate. From Blade Runner to Fallout, science fiction across all mediums has always played a leading role in bringing the ethical and political dilemmas of AI to mass audiences. The Creator cranks it up another notch with a thinly veiled but searing attack on overbearing American militarisation. The war on AI is seen as a way for America to mask its own failings by casting the simulants as an inhuman ‘other’. Allegories to the Vietnam War are plentiful, with some Apocalypse Now references thrown in for good measure. The slew of nods to previous films risks making The Creator feel a bit shallow, but these fears are put aside if you can see this instead as a statement on how cinema has grappled with these kinds of dilemmas for years. The Creator brings many of them together in one big bundle.
Conflicting loyalties tear away at Taylor, allowing Washington to grace the film with a naturalistic performance that nonetheless seethes with loss and regret. It is through Taylor that conflicting feelings about AI are explored, such as how he refers to simulants as being turned “off” rather than dead, and his growing bond with the AI child (a remarkable Voyles, who seems to say a thousand words with just a look). Anybody looking for a swift condemnation of AI won’t find it here; The Creator is not as blunt as that, although it is also wrong to say that the AI fighters are beyond criticism. It is instead more interested in exploring our own potential as much as that of machines, visualising the limits of how far we might go to cling on to a dogmatic idea of humanity and to escape our own shortcomings.
Amidst the high octane, emotional ending and the deftly bizarre touches Edwards brings (kamikaze dustbin robots – no, really), something else stands out proudly: the visuals. The Creator is a glorious lesson in how to do visual effects right, borrowing a leaf from District 9 and Ex Machina in making fantastical things feel as real as possible. The clicking and whirring machinery in the back of simulants’ heads is just one example of the fine attention to detail, while the NOMAD’s targeting beam feels so plausible it is scary. By maintaining such an equal VFX plane, Edwards does not let the simulants occupy even a marginally different visual world than their human counterparts. They share the same earth, making the stakes of their conflict feel all the more severe.
By usurping expectations and allowing hard truths to reach their conclusion in epic fashion, The Creator is the kind of big, non-franchise blockbuster that audiences deserve. Sincere in its execution and with at times a mystifying beauty, as well as some serious thrills, Edwards has yet again rewarded audiences with his leap of faith.
The Creator is out in cinemas now.