20th Century Studios / Disney
In Gareth Edwards’ “The Creator,” there’s a pivotal moment around the midpoint where John David Washington’s character visits a strip club and observes a robotic dancer performing. Despite the film’s frequent and explicit emphasis on exploring the inner lives of these synthetic beings, it surprisingly offers no reflection on this particular development. Instead of delving into the intricacies of this situation (for instance, do Simulants experience sexual desires, and were these desires programmed by their human creators to better resemble humans?), the film simplifies it by drawing a parallel between human and synthetic experiences. In essence, it equates human strip clubs with robotic strip clubs. This instance reflects the film’s overall approach: it fixates on surface-level aesthetics, neglecting the opportunity to delve into deeper thematic explorations often associated with the science fiction genre.
TOP FIVE THINGS ABOUT “THE CREATOR”
5. The Visuals
Having said that, Gareth Edwards, cinematographers Greig Fraser and Oren Soffer, and the incredible VFX artists at ILM do deliver some truly remarkable visual work here. From the groundbreaking, versatile way in which the film was shot (on-location with a minimalist crew) to the constant golden-hour sunlit, massive scale-imparting aesthetic, it is supremely impressive just how much bang this team is able to get for their buck. If you enjoyed this team’s prior visual collaboration on Rogue One, this takes it to the nth degree, and it is fascinating to watch.
4. Weak Spot: The Writing
As hinted at previously, the writing of “The Creator” is where things really go off the rails. While Edwards and co. seem endlessly interested in developing the visual aesthetic of this Syd Mead-inspired dystopia, when it comes to actually filling that world with a meaningful story, they appear much less interested. The core narrative is stock-standard, the characters are largely undeveloped (the primary antagonist gets a single shot of actual character development in the whole movie – it’s a testament to John David Washington’s performance capabilities that Joshua feels like a real character at all, given how poorly he is written), and the themes of the film are so malnourished, it’s ghastly. Despite the film’s insistence on ham-fistedly hammering its bluntest ideas into the ground (a character literally says the equivalent of “A.I. has bigger hearts than humans! You’re the real monsters!” in the first ten minutes), it displays a complete inability to meaningfully or purposefully build thematic ideas across its runtime.
3. Madeleine Yuna Voyles
The young actress who plays ‘Alfie’ in the film does a truly exceptional job, not only in selling the film’s central arc but also in nailing her character’s most emotive beats in stellar fashion. Her performance, coupled with Edwards’ storytelling intuition, harmonically culminates in an astoundingly satisfying final shot for the film.
2. Weak Spot: Editing
“The Creator” is a film that was shot in a thoroughly unconventional, groundbreaking fashion. However, while this on-location tactic is innovative and cost-saving, it often leads to a film in which each shot feels like it was filmed in disparate locations. As a result, the editing of the film suffers tremendously.
Despite the trademark Edwards scale-imparting wide shots, there are consistent issues with incongruous geography within the scenes. Additionally, due to the way the film was shot and its weak writing, a significant portion of the spoken lines in this film had to be added in post-production (ADR-ed).
All of these factors, combined with the film’s relentlessly handheld visual aesthetic, contribute to a movie that feels tactile in some good ways but also exceedingly messy and muddy in not-so-good ways throughout.
1. The Fourth Act
One of the aspects that accentuates The Creator’s shortcomings is how focused and impactful the final act of the film is. Drawing inspiration from James Cameron’s and Ridley Scott’s playbook, Edwards and his team deliver a final act that is concise and purposeful in its cinematic storytelling. This makes the preceding three-fourths of the film feel even more aimless by comparison.
The film’s second act is particularly perplexing, featuring unmotivated and monotonous action sequences that fail to advance the plot or develop characters. This is especially baffling when considering the coherence and effectiveness of the final act. If Edwards and his team had the compelling narrative of the fourth act in mind all along, it raises questions about the excessive action sequences that do little to drive character or theme.
Despite this puzzling inconsistency, the fourth act pays homage to Ridley Scott’s “Alien” and James Cameron’s “Aliens” in significant and evident ways. It successfully delivers significant action and character moments with enthusiasm and vigor, qualities that are regrettably lacking in the rest of the film.
“The Creator” is a captivating film that draws inspiration from ’70s and ’80s science fiction aesthetics. However, it doesn’t quite feel like a product of that era; instead, it appears more aligned with the mid-to-late-’00s. Rather than being a thought-provoking work of speculative science fiction, it comes across as a collection of recycled elements with little innovation. It resembles the kind of movie that would seamlessly fit into a mid-afternoon movie marathon on a channel like FX, sandwiched between films like I, Robot, District 9, and Oblivion.
Science fiction as a genre offers an opportunity to explore contemporary concerns through a speculative lens. Despite addressing timely subjects, such as artificial intelligence in the midst of a writer’s strike, “The Creator” falls short of offering fresh perspectives on these topics. It often reiterates themes and ideas that have been explored more profoundly in previous works.