“The Creator” is the latest sci-fi film written and directed by Gareth Edwards, the man behind the stellar and immensely underrated “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.” After a nuclear bomb destroys Los Angeles, the United States blames widespread and rapidly growing artificial intelligence. Decades later we’re in 2065, when a global war between the Americans and the A.I., who now rule the eastern hemisphere (renamed “New Asia”), is reaching a devastating climax. John David Washington plays Joshua, a former American operative who lost his wife in this long-running battle. Now, he’s brought back into action by the American government and put on a team to capture a mysterious weapon from an A.I. facility, only to discover it’s a young cybernetic child (later named Alphie). What proceeds is an all-too obvious mixture of “Paper Moon,” “Children of Men,” “Blade Runner,” “The Terminator,” and pretty much all other famous sci-fi flicks you can think of.
I won’t lie: I went into this with really high expectations. But how could I not? One of our finest modern science fiction filmmakers returns to the silver screen after seven years, the trailers looked absolutely incredible, and the early reports from test screenings were stellar. I was rooting for Edwards ever since the film was announced, but after seeing “The Creator,” he’s lost my trust.
The original cut of this film was a whopping five hours, and when watching the two-hour-long final product, it’s abundantly clear. This is a jagged, chopped together, racing-to-the-finish-line mess of a film. While the plot is generally coherent, there’s no emotions or investment holding the film together. All of the scenes meant to make us sympathize with the characters are just gone. Despite the heart of the film supposedly being the cliché father-daughter relationship (so clichéd that they literally stole the “You can talk?!” scene from “Logan” — seriously, it even takes place in a car too), you can’t feel it because there are barely any scenes exploring that relationship. In one scene Joshua will hate Alphie and in the very next scene he’ll suddenly care about her. What happened? Where’s the development? These characters need room to breathe. The film just moves from plot point to plot point and set-piece to set-piece without actually getting us invested in the characters.
“The Creator” isn’t experienced, watched, or even viewed; it’s just looked at. There’s nothing to connect to. It’s such an odd experience, and the worst part is that there’s no excuse for it because they did film those needed character development scenes. Those moments are just lying on the cutting room floor, begging to be added. “The Creator” is one of the very few films nowadays that I’d actually want to be longer. And I don’t just mean 5, 10, 15 minutes longer — there needs to be at least 30 more minutes here. The film is bleeding out and needs that runtime transfusion desperately. This is an absolute skeleton of a movie.
Now let’s address one of this film’s biggest selling points: it’s an original sci-fi film from Hollywood! WoAh HoW cOoL! After seeing it, what’s so original about it? Maybe the robot designs, but what else? The story sure isn’t original. Nor is this high-tech dystopian future. It’s just “Blade Runner.” Almost all of the characters are one-dimensional, and the ones that aren’t are just copy/pasted from other movies. We’ve seen the whole war between man and machine before. “The Terminator,” “The Matrix.” Seriously, what about this concept is “original?” What this film actually is is a non-franchise sci-fi movie. That doesn’t mean original, that just means it’s not a sequel, reboot, or remake. And it’s not as if it’s the first in a long time to do this: 2019’s “Ad Astra,” 2016’s “Arrival,” and 2015’s “Ex Machina” just to name a few. Hell, a new sci-fi movie called “Foe” is releasing one week after “The Creator.”
Plus, just because a film is part of a franchise doesn’t mean it’s any less of a film. Let’s look at examples from this year. MI7 is one of the best films of the year. TMNT: Mutant Mayhem is my favorite animated film of the year. “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” remains the best sci-fi film of the year.
So, after all that ranting, do I think “The Creator” is a bad film? No, not at all. I’m just disappointed and, frankly, offended by this film when I know it could’ve been so much better. There are some terrific elements in here. The visuals and cinematography are absolutely gorgeous; this is probably the best looking film of 2023. The action sequences are invigorating, energetic, and utterly badass. Some individual scenes are actually quite memorable, namely one in which Allison Janney’s character uses a computer to resurrect someone for thirty seconds. The third act climax is phenomenal, albeit — like almost everything in the film — rushed. Edwards always delivers on his third acts at least. Then there’s the biggest praise I can give any film, which is that it survived a child actor’s performance: Madeleine Yuna Voyles was never annoying as Alphie.
When “The Creator” gets something right, it really gets something right, but when it gets something wrong, it really gets something wrong. It’s the ultimate mixed bag of a film; one which has just as many strengths as it does weaknesses. But that’s not good enough. That should never be good enough, for any film. Those critics calling this film a “masterpiece” (of whom there are thankfully few) aren’t analyzing this movie properly. Just because you think it’s original doesn’t mean it gets a pass for its mediocrity. When people watch this movie ten years from now, they won’t be thinking, “Finally, an original sci-fi movie!” They won’t care about whether or not original films were being made in 2023; they’re just trying to find a good movie to watch on Netflix in 2033.