My biggest problem with The Creator is that it didn’t make me cry. That seems like an odd thing to say, I understand, but let me explain. You see, I’m a softie. The kind of person who cries rewatching their favorite movies for the 500th time. Sometimes the nostalgia just hits me so hard, I can’t help but tear up. The same goes for sappy movies. Give me a happy or touching moment, accented by the right music and editing, and there’s a good chance the waterworks are coming.
Now, it’s not like all movies make me cry, but it’s very clear watching The Creator that this one wants you to. At its core, it’s about a man giving up everything to defend a child. There are powerful feelings there! Feelings of love, sacrifice, joy, legacy, hope, etc. And yet that aspect of the movie, the one about the man and the child, can’t measure up to everything around it. It’s in there. Director Gareth Edwards and his team do everything in their power to craft those tear-worthy moments. It just never connected for me on that level, which is a shame because, in seemingly every other way, it does connect. The Creator is a beautifully made, highly entertaining sci-fi adventure that just can’t get its heart right.
Co-written and directed by Edwards (Godzilla, Rogue One), The Creator is set in a world where humans and artificial intelligence are at war in some places, and at peace in others. In the midst of this global conflict, a group of soldiers sets out to find and destroy the AI’s ultimate weapon which, they ultimately learn, is a young girl we’ll come to know as Alfie. Alfie is played by newcomer Madeleine Yuna Voyles and she’ll take your breath away in every single scene.
That’s the barebones set up but from the first scene, you realize The Creator is going to dig much, much deeper. The film sets up the history of the conflict and opposing viewpoints, then introduces us to Joshua (John David Washington) and Maya (Gemma Chan), a couple who seem well-removed from the conflict but are anything but. The first truth, of many, we learn about them sends the film off into a whole new direction, and with each new revelation, it shifts again and again.
Big reveals keep The Creator moving but what keeps it interesting is duality, mainly in terms of the villains and the settings. The main country at war with the AI is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the United States. That point of view in turn also puts America at odds with countries all over the world, especially in the East. At the start though, The Creator doesn’t really say which side is right and which is wrong. We learn about both sides of the war. The good, the bad, the whys, and the hows. Characters like Ken Watanabe’s human-looking AI and Allison Janney’s military leader shine a light on how these wars are viewed all across the globe.
That story is then set in a very unique blend of rural living and high technology. We’ve seen so many sci-fi movies set in slick, neon, futuristic cities or cold, metal-looking space stations, but how often do we get to see lush, green plant life, wide, flowing rivers, or bright, snowcapped mountains juxtaposed with flying ships and laser guns? Not too often. As a result, the world of The Creator feels both mysterious and lived in and you just want to spend time in it.
Eventually, Joshua finds himself a the head of the team hunting for the AI weapon and comes face to face with Alfie. Joshua knows his mission is to kill Alfie, but he can’t bring himself to do so. Instead, he finds himself protecting her while they search for the only person who has any answers. The person who created Alfie, hence the title. That betrayal doesn’t sit too well with Joshua’s military allies, though, who now find themselves hunting him and Alfie.
This is where Edwards really gets to flex his muscles. He’s set up the conflict, he’s got the setting, and then he starts to populate it with all manner of wildly cool sci-fi iconography. Ships, tanks, guns, suits, any and everything on screen is plain awesome. And while many of these designs are heavily influenced by, if not directly lifted from, sci-fi of the past, there are also plenty of cool, new ideas along the way. These help distinguish The Creator from the films it blatantly, yet respectfully, pays homage to.
Using those sci-fi toys, including the biggest of them all, a warship called Nomad, Edwards stages several exciting, epic action scenes. These scenes, at least early on, work especially well because the film has spent so much time showing us both sides of this conflict. As a result, each of the scenes has that much more weight. We understand why America wants to kill Alfie. We also know why killing her would be terrible. This morality play at the center of The Creator is the film at its best.
Joshua, Alfie, and Maya’s stories are beautifully woven through the first two acts of the film before hitting a more action-focused finale. It too is nice to look at and certainly enjoyable but almost shockingly lacking some of the humanity of the previous battles. That might be because, by this point, the film has basically made its mind up about which point of view is right. So, as its most emotionally packed moments finally unfold, the complexity The Creator has built gets lost.
Which means it’s not perfect. Few movies are. And it’s not like the climactic action sequences and core relationship don’t work at all. They just don’t work as well as everything around them. But those things, such as the look of the film, its themes, surprise-filled plot, and sci-fi reverence, all work incredibly well. In the end, The Creator is a more than welcome addition to the sci-fi pantheon. It just doesn’t sit near the top of it.
The Creator opens Friday.
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…. to be continued
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