Against the backdrop of a war between humans and robots with artificial intelligence, a former soldier finds the secret weapon, a robot in the form of a young child. (from IMDB)
It’s hard to believe it’s been 7 years since we’ve seen a movie from director Gareth Edwards. In 2016, Edwards delivered Star Wars fans what has arguably become the best Star Wars movie that Disney has produced since acquiring Lucasfilm: Rogue One. Surely the film is hardly perfect, but it simultaneously delivered something fresh yet nostalgic. Prior to Rogue One, Edwards rebooted the US version of Godzilla just two years earlier, with mixed results. He sure had the monsters down, but the lack of action made the movie less than fulfilling for diehard fans of the kaiju lizard. But now, Edwards is back with something different: The Creator.
The Creator is a movie about AI (artifical intelligence), releasing at a time when it couldn’t be more appropriate or relevant. We’re seeing all kinds of AI systems being developed – to the point of it being a kind of scary. Now we have a movie about a war between humans and AI, and one has to wonder when something like this really could be on the horizon for us. The Creator‘s title is a reference to the person who the AI credit for creating them, and the humans hunt this person in hopes of stopping the further development of AI’s.
The film’s central protagonist is Tenet‘s John David Washington (see what I did there, Tenet fans?) who plays Joshua, a former soldier who loses his wife during a raid gone wrong. Five years later, he’s pulled back in by the U.S. to help them track down – and destroy – a new secret weapon the AI have created. Along the way, Joshua is perplexed to find that “the weapon” appears to be a little girl that is being heavily guarded, and she has some unusual powers that may pose as a threat to mankind. Joshua decides to protect the girl, to whom he gives the name Alphie, and the two form an unlikely bond as they evade the U.S. soldiers and try to figure out how they can actually help the AI — who don’t seem nearly as bad as the humans that pursue them.
First off, I have to say there’s an interesting concept here regarding AI in that the film does nothing but paint them in a positive light, going so far as to defend them even. Perhaps the underlying message of the entire story is about trying to understand those that are so different than us that we fear them, but I must admit that using AI to portray this idea is an odd choice. I honestly don’t think AI needs defending right now – as we see things like ChatGPT rising in popularity, and having services like Siri and Alexa on devices we use on a daily basis. Maybe The Creator is the kind of movie best taken at face value, allowing Edwards to take us along for a well-crafted sci-fi ride. But there definitely seems to be a little more going on here thematically.
The Creator introduces Madeleine Yuna Voyles as Alphie, and she’s one of the best things this movie has going for it. She’s adorable and can really act, which makes her character all that more interesting to watch. Heaven knows how crucial it is for a film involving children to have great young actors, and Voyles is a truly inspired find. She and Washington also have chemistry on screen, which is paramount for making a story like this work, and once the two pair up, the movie is elevated considerably. Washington’s performance in Tenet is a bit bland, but he shows right away in The Creator that he’s got much more range. He’s certainly nowhere near as charismatic as his actor father, the legendary Denzel Washington, but John David still proves to be a good actor. Gemma Chan plays his love interest, Maya, and is also great in her short screentime. Allison Janney is a sort of villain in the film, and while I don’t think she was the best choice for the role, she certainly performs it well.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t highlight the special effects in The Creator. These days, so many movies that rely on special effects just aren’t able to pull things off believably. I don’t know what kind of magic the filmmakers were able to conjure up, but the robotics in this movie are super impressive. The humanoids with completely robotic heads are impressive alone, but the way robotics are merged with real actor’s faces is eerily realistic. I kept looking for giveaways to how the effects were merged, but I had a really hard time finding anything. The vehicles were also impressive – with some really sweet designs too (like the cop car and a fancy sedan). Suffice to say, this movie had some of the best and most consistent uses of special effects I’ve seen in some time.
The content for The Creator is definitely PG-13, and sadly, profanity is a major issue. For nearly the entire run of the movie, the “S” word is used pretty frequently (I noted over 30 uses, easily), and the “F” word is said in full by little Alphie, which was shocking but meant to be funny (But I found it kind of sad that they had her say it). She says it while quoting Joshua to another person, but the actual line Joshua had said used “frickin'” in the moment. Moments after Alphie drops the lone “F” bomb, another robot starts saying “Oh f—” but is cut off before they could finish the word. There is a little blasphemy, including a sorrowful use of “Oh J-sus,” and at least 3 uses of “g*dd*mn” in other places. There’s no sexual content, but we briefly see a couple topless female robots being made and their skin is seen without any nipples. The violence is quite heavy at times, with a lot of humanoid robot violence, and some human violence that gets a bit bloody. Some dead people in lab coats are briefly shown with blood all over their coats. Another person is shown being hit in the face repeatedly by a robot and then spitting up blood (we see this twice). And some robot violence shows humanoid faces in pieces or being blown away, which could be disturbing to some.
The Creator won’t be the best sci-fi movie you’ll see, or even the best movie about AI that you’ll see, but it is a sweet surprise and a highly entertaining movie. Great performances, great visuals, and a capable score provided by Hans Zimmer help make The Creator well worth seeing on a big screen (like IMAX, where I saw it), and one of the more memorable cinematic offerings of 2023.
– John DiBiase (reviewed: 10/4/23)
iTunes / Digital Copy Bonus Features
Less than two months since its theatrical debut, 20th Century Studios (which is now owned by Disney) has released The Creator to streaming services. The special features on the iTunes digital copy include:
The Creator in Digital 4K – Despite being in 4K, there’s a surprising amount of grain in the look of The Creator. Granted, in the attached making-of documentary, director Gareth Edwards talks at length about the look and feel of the movie, filtering the picture, and being very specific about which cameras he wanted to use. Still, I’m a little surprised at the picture’s noticeable grain. But I do think the grain lends aid to the effects being able to blend better with the real-life footage. And, ultimately, it still has a nice color and crispness to it. I’d be curious to see if the 4K transfer on disc would look any better.
True Love: Making the Creator (55:48) – There’s only one bonus feature on the iTunes digital copy, and it’s a feature-long making-of documentary. Director Gareth Edwards goes into great detail about the production and his intentions for the movie. He reveals that the aesthetic for the story was to kind of mix Vietnam with sci-fi. He talks about going on a trip and cherry-picking the most beautiful places in Southeast Asia with the goal of making a video that captured the atmosphere and feel of what he wanted his movie to look like. He cut it into an 8-minute reel and begged ILM to transform this footage by adding in backgrounds and turning people into robots, all in an attempt to prove his visual concept.
Although Edwards wanted to go to various locations for actual filming, he picked Thailand for most of the shoot due to the limitations brought on by the pandemic (and the production ended up shooting in the country more than any other film that came before). To achieve the futuristic look in the movie – from the robots to the fantastic landscapes – he actually didn’t use green screen or actors in “gray pajamas.” Instead, a technique of “painting” the effects over the film footage was employed (which explains why it looks so good!). More than one member of the crew likened the approach to the film to making a documentary, which is intriguing.
The making-of feature continues with footage of scenes being filmed, showing a couple takes in some instances, which lends to the uniqueness of this particular Extra. The actors talk about Gareth’s directing style and how tenacious he is as a filmmaker. John David Washington couldn’t say enough good things about working with Edwards and the process of the production.
At one point, Edwards shares that, after a first edit was assembled using the script as a guide, the movie was 5 hours long! He likened editing it down to 2 hours like playing a game of Jenga, slowly pulling out pieces to see if the movie still works without them. Edwards also reflects on how much more of a hot topic AI is right now than it was when they were planning the movie. He then leaves the viewers with a message to filmmakers, telling them to break the rules and go make a movie the way you think it should be made.
It kind of surprised me to hear a decent amount of profanity in the documentary, especially when docs like this one are typically pretty clean (although, admittedly, it depends on the studio and the initial rating of the movie in question). Washington uses “J-sus Chr-st” twice, otherwise there are 5 uses of the “S” word, 2 of “h*ll,” and 1 “Oh my G-d.”
Overall, the documentary is a nice feature to include with the digital copy, but upon learning that the first cut of the movie was 5 hours long, I’m surprised there are no deleted scenes. An inside look at how they created some of the special effects would have been pretty cool, too.
– John DiBiase (reviewed: 11/14/23)
Parental Guide: Content Summary
Sex/Nudity: Joshua and Maya are seen lying together clothed and caressing each other, but that’s it; We see some barechested female robots being made, but while there is the shape of breasts on their torsos, there are no nipples; As a woman is screaming at soldiers in a foreign language, it translates as “Please make love to yourself” and “Please make love to your mother” referencing uses of the “F” word in their native tongue.
Vulgarity/Language: 1 “F” word (spoken by a 5-year-old), 1 incomplete “F” word, 34 “S” words, 1 “Oh J-sus,” 2 “S.O.B,” 8 “h*ll,” 6 “d*mn,” 3 “g*dd*mn,” 4 “*ssh*le,” 1 “a” word, 1 “d*ck,” 1 incomplete “Son of a–,” 2 “Oh G-d”; As a woman is screaming at soldiers in a foreign language, it translates as “Please make love to yourself” and “Please make love to your mother” referencing uses of the “F” word in their native tongue.
Blood/Gore: The opening scene shows news footage of robots and humans and we see what looks like a real brain sticking out of a person’s head as it’s being scanned. Another shot shows a fake but realistic looking human head split in two with circuitry shown inside; Joshua lost an arm and leg in a previous unseen accident. We see his shoulder stump where his skin has healed over several times, and we see him put on his fake arm and lower leg a couple times; A woman who has blood on her head and clothes shoots a man; A man is shot in the leg and we see blood spurt on impact; A man is hit in the face repeatedly by a robot. There is blood all over his face and he spits out blood. We later see the shot of him spitting out blood again; Several people are gunned down in a lab. We briefly see their bodies lying on the ground with big bloody splotches on their white uniforms; A humanoid robot is shot in the face and their human face is quickly replaced by a large metallic void; A wounded soldier has some blood on his face; Another wounded soldier has blood on his nose and face;
Violence: We see news footage of an atomic bomb going off; Soldiers raid a village and we see a soldier dragged into a home by a robot. The man has blood on his face and is hit in the face repeatedly by the robot. He then spits blood. Joshua pretends to shoot and kill him by shooting next to his body; Maya holds a gun on a man; An explosion goes off, sending a wave through water, knocking Joshua down; We see Joshua missing an arm (it’s healed) when he wakes up. He then puts his fake arm on. The lower part of his leg is also robotic; Soldiers raid a village and threaten the people who are hiding AI’s. One soldier holds a gun on a dog and threatens to shoot it (but doesn’t); The soldiers shoot up an underground lab, killing everyone they come in contact with (we see bloody bodies on the ground); Joshua is shot by a woman and falls over; We see a man has been shot and he’s lying dead with his eyes open; A missile blows up a bunker and Joshua is knocked to the ground; Joshua throws a rock at Alphie to get her to leave. She then hits him with one too; A man tries to strangle and subdue an AI. We then see outside the vehicle they’re in and hear more gunshots. The vehicle then suddenly turns around; A robot bomb runs across a bridge to the other side and explodes; An AI is hit by a missile and explodes; A bomb in a bag blows up in the face of an AI. We then see the robot lying dead with a person cradling its severed arm; We see the close-up of an AI missing its eyes while it’s being interrogated. A soldier then shoots it in the head off screen; A robot is suddenly hit in the head with a bullet and their face is replaced by a metallic hole; An EMP gun immobilizes several AI’s; A bomb is attached to a soldier who gets on a helicopter. It then explodes, crashing the helicopter; A person is hit with a bomb that attaches to their clothing. It goes off, killing them; A person shoots a hole through an AI; We see a different person shoot a hole through a different AI; Missiles launch in an aircraft that target several different locations; A machine with tentacle-like arms grabs at Joshua and whips him around; A ship explodes, killing people inside; And lots of other sci-fi action violence.