Hollywood loves a bogeyman. In the 80s, films like Red Dawn and Rocky IV had antagonists in the Soviet Union. The internet, climate change, and terrorism are also drawn upon to provide villains. In the 2020s, AI has taken up that mantle. We’ve already seen Tom Cruise chase The Entity in the latest Mission: Impossible instalment, and now Rogue One director Gareth Edwards takes it one step further in The Creator.
It’s set sometime in a future where a war between America and AI has raged for years following the nuclear destruction of Los Angeles. John David Washington plays Joshua, a former Special Forces agent grieving the loss of his wife (Gemma Chan) and unborn child during a mission. Lured back into service by a vision from the past, Joshua is assigned a mission to find a new AI weapon that threatens to end the war permanently.
When he finds that the weapon is an AI in the form of a child he calls Alfie (Madeleine Yuna Voyles), his priorities shift. It’s a novelty to see a big budget action movie formed from an original piece of writing, and Edwards builds his world beautifully. From the opening news footage that explains the geopolitical situation, to Joshua and Alfie walking around a world that feels alive with detail.
Visually and structurally, it’s engrossing to watch, grounding the mass spectacle in human stories. That skill has been a hallmark of Edwards’ storytelling since his breakthrough film, 2011’s Monsters. The story doesn’t always live up to the same standard. The script, co-written by Edwards and Rogue One writer Chris Weitz, treads familiar ground as American imperialism, parenthood, and grim dystopian themes provide the backbone of the plot.
Perhaps it’s inevitable for The Creator to have shades of the Terminator films, as well as some similarities to The Last of Us and The Mandalorian, but in this instance these famous films feel uncomfortably alike. That said, it’s never anything less than earnest, thanks partly to a cast that works hard to add heart to the mechanics. Washington has shown many times that he’s capable of carrying a film of this size, and is striking as a man driven by a very personal mission.
Madeleine Yuna Voyles is superb as his young companion, making Alfie a cyberpunk Baby Yoda that embodies everything hopeful in the story. Top class support comes from Edwards regular Ken Watanabe, playing an AI revolutionary, as well as Allison Janney relishing a different kind of role as the ruthless American General Howell.
The dark tone and familiarity may be off-putting, but there’s plenty to love about The Creator. After having his version of Rogue One re-edited, it’s compelling to see Gareth Edwards make exactly the type of film he wants, delivering a vision that will stick in the memory of sci-fi fans.