REVIEW: The Creator (2023, dir. Gareth Edwards)

Certificate: 12A

Running Time: 133 mins

UK Distributor: 20th Century Studios

UK Release Date: 28 September 2023

WHO’S IN THE CREATOR?

John David Washington, Gemma Chan, Ken Watanabe, Sturgill Simpson, Madeleine Yuna Voyles, Allison Janney, Ralph Ineson, Marc Menchaca, Veronica Ngo

WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?

Gareth Edwards (director, writer, producer), Chris Weitz (writer), Kiri Hart, Arnon Milchan, Galileo Mondol, Ace Salvador and Jim Spencer (producers), Hans Zimmer (composer), Greig Fraser and Oren Soffer (cinematographers), Hank Corwin, Scott Morris and Joe Walker (editors)

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

During a futuristic war against AI, a soldier (Washington) is confronted with a surprising dilemma…

WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON THE CREATOR?

A common criticism of the many underperforming blockbusters to have come out this past summer seems to have been how, for all their stupidly inflated budgets (as an example, Fast X cost $340 million to make, while Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny wasn’t too far behind with its own $300 million price tag), little of those millions went into making them actually look good. Whether it’s the now-notoriously ugly effects in The Flash, or the bland and occasionally clumsy cinematography of Haunted Mansion, this year’s crop of big releases have largely failed to visually capture the imagination of their audiences, which is something that any film of any budget should aspire to do as a basic minimum.

Luckily, there’s still someone out there who still knows how to make a classic popcorn movie both look and feel like a truly awe-inspiring epic, all for significantly less money ($80 million, to be exact). Gareth Edwards, the filmmaker behind Monsters, the 2014 Godzilla reboot, and most notably the acclaimed spin-off Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, makes his return after seven years to show everyone how it’s done with The Creator, a masterful technical achievement that spreads out its cost without looking the least bit cheap, and manages to pack far more visual and emotional strength into itself than many of the much more expensive movies from mere months ago.

Set in the year 2070, humanity is at war with artificially intelligent robotic beings after they seemingly launched a nuclear attack on Los Angeles. The androids have since fled to “New Asia”, where they are able to live freely as they wish, while the Americans continue to deploy their skyborne weapons aircraft NOMAD to locate and strike their targets in a show of all-out war. During a covert mission to find and destroy a weapon known as Alpha-O, which is said to be so powerful that it could significantly alter the course of the war, soldier Joshua (John David Washington) discovers that the weapon is in the form of a young child named Alphie (Madeleine Yuna Voyles), and against his better judgement escapes with her when he discovers that she can lead him to Maya (Gemma Chan), his former love whom he grew close to during an undercover mission five years earlier.

The central concept, as written by Edwards and Chris Weitz, certainly owes a significant amount of its inspiration to past sci-fi hits like The Terminator, Blade Runner, Avatar and Ex Machina, but remarkably the film never feels redundant in its storytelling, and works well around some of the familiar beats to give it a bold sense of originality in its execution. Its steady pacing leaves you able to follow the story without feeling like it’s dragging out certain aspects, and it spends a good portion of its time establishing the relationships between many of the central characters who, as in most of Edwards’ other films, are hardly the most complex figures in sci-fi storytelling, but are interesting and likeable enough to follow to the very end of their journeys. Some will feel The Creator to be nothing more than a collection of recycled conventions, and to a point I can understand where they’d be coming from, but it’s not as though Edwards half-asses any of them, and if nothing else he executes them with a burning passion for filmmaking and storytelling that, in its own way, makes many of the tropes feel fresh again.

It’s an interesting world that Edwards has come up with here, as it appears to be one where American imperialism has gone full Team America: World Police by causing destruction and chaos all across the world in their pursuit of AI dissidents, without even the slightest bit of international condemnation. They’ll use everything from nuclear weaponry to R2-D2-shaped kamikaze droids in order to draw out their enemies, often with pretty gruesome results (when some robots are blown up, parts of their technical body parts go flying everywhere like they’re pieces of flesh). Meanwhile, the cities and shanty towns spread across New Asia are often pretty grungy to wander through, and would most likely be a third world country if it weren’t for the clear advancements in technology thanks to the AI’s presence in its society. The imagery to incorporate these locations and themes is far from subtle – particularly when giant tanks with “US ARMY” plastered over them roll over small villages – but it is an intriguing bit of world-building that Edwards clearly enjoys guiding the audience through.

Most importantly, though, The Creator is a blockbuster that looks not just good, but great. The cinematography, credited to both Greig Fraser and Oren Soffer, is gorgeous in how it captures the raw beauty of the vast sci-fi landscapes – most of it captured on-location in places like Thailand, as opposed to doing it all in front of a green-screen, as often is the case with bigger-budgeted fare nowadays – with camerawork that, in a return to Edwards’ former guerilla tactics used on Monsters, feels exceptionally grounded while still incorporating plenty of sweeping shots of the atmosphere. Meanwhile, the visual effects work is striking in how it not only looks extremely convincing most of the time, particularly the robotic components on several humanoid beings, but thanks to how grainy the film-stock visual filter looks, it often does feel like they are practical effects, even when it’s fairly obvious that they were computer-generated. It is honestly hard to fully articulate how fantastic this movie looks, to where far too many other blockbusters that cost way more than this really need to be strapped to a chair and forced to watch it in order to understand how to properly use the filmmaking arsenal at their disposal.

Filled with filmmaking and storytelling passion, as well as ambitious visuals to die for, The Creator is a blockbuster that we need to have in our lives right now. If nothing else, it provides the blueprints for what a modern cost-effective movie of this magnitude should be in this day and age, which is a lesson that most other studios have to learn in order to win back over their rapidly depleting audiences.

SO, TO SUM UP…

The Creator mixes ambitious blockbuster filmmaking and storytelling with gorgeous visuals and fantastic effects, making it a rare 2023 popcorn movie that still knows how to do things the old-fashioned, and far superior, way.

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