'The Creator' delivers a derivative yet dynamic portrait of pure AI paranoia (review)

a man in a cloak carrying a rifle stands behind a small child whose head is half-robotic
Promotional art for "The Creator." (Image credit: 20th Century Studios)

Director Gareth Edwards ("Monsters," "Godzilla") is mostly known for directing 2016's "Star Wars" prequel film, "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" with last minute assistance from screenwriter director Tony Gilroy to craft one of the finest entries in that lucrative Hollywood franchise.

Nearly seven years after that well-received entry in the galaxy far, far away's dense canon, Edwards is back in the sci-fi realm with "The Creator," a familiar-feeling, $80 million futuristic thriller that capitalizes on society's current frenzy over the rapid encroachment of artificial intelligence.

Released over this past weekend from 20th Century Studios, New Regency, and Entertainment One, "The Creator" revolves around a genocidal clash between Humankind and an AI entity with the resources necessary for what's believed to be the extermination of Earth's living inhabitants. It stars "Tenet's" John David Washington, "Eternals'" Gemma Chan, "Inception's" Ken Watanabe, Sturgill Simpson, Madeleine Yuna Voyles, Amar Chadha-Patel and Allison Janney.

Related: Humans battle hostile AI in final trailer and first clip from new sci-fi thriller, 'The Creator' (video)

Here's the movie's official synopsis:

"Amid a future war between the human race and the forces of artificial intelligence, Joshua (Washington), a hardened ex-special forces agent grieving the disappearance of his wife (Chan), is recruited to hunt down and kill the Creator, the elusive architect of advanced AI who has developed a mysterious weapon with the power to end the war — and mankind itself. Joshua and his team of elite operatives journey across enemy lines, into the dark heart of AI-occupied territory … only to discover the world-ending weapon he's been instructed to destroy is an AI in the form of a young child."

As expected, Edwards and his superb Academy Award winning cinematographer Greig Fraser, the director of photography behind the camera on "Dune" and "Rogue One," serve up some sensational worldbuilding of a near-future 2070 amid an annoyingly predictable and often confusing screenplay Edwards co-wrote with Chris Weitz ("About a Boy"). 

Borrowed plot inconsistencies flare up at inopportune moments to fan the flames of distraction all too often. If you're feeling an overwhelming sense of deja vu during a screening, then its due to the script's black-and-white morality that feels like a version of "The Golden Child" meets "Blade Runner" and "A.I. Artificial Intelligence."

Alphie deactivates a suicide bomber robot in "The Creator." (Image credit: 20th Century Studios)

Headscratchers arise when it's established that the United States considers all AI as a great global threat that must be eradicated, despite the American military employing that advanced tech for all its battlefield logistics, communications devices, prosthetic limbs, language translators' and charging bomber droids.

The score by Academy Award winning composer Hans Zimmer is one of the maestro's best since 2014's "Interstellar." It's a hypnotic, operatic soundtrack that lends itself to the verdant Asian vistas, tender intimate sequences, and imposing shots of the U.S. military's hovering command center, the USS Nomad, lobbing sleek missiles into secret AI bases with deadly effect.

But it's the delicate and well-executed performances by newcomer Madeleine Yuna Voyles as the adorable android superweapon and her connection with Washington's Joshua that forges engagement with audiences. All this amid large-scale battles featuring ginormous tanks, robotic commandos and darting fighter jets competing against the story's predictable plot points in an era of sophisticated sci-fi narratives found in series like Apple TV+'s "Foundation," "Invasion" or "Silo."  

Director Gareth Edwards helms "The Creator." (Image credit: 20th Century Studios)

Nevertheless, sitting before a massive IMAX canvas ingesting these magnificent wide-screen compositions is something every true-blue science fiction fan should witness, as it's evident that a tremendous amount of love went into producing this action-packed saga of humans versus advanced AI. 

"The Creator's" admirable visual effects team includes the typical exemplary wizardry from Industrial Light & Magic, and if a few lightsaber-wielding Jedi Knights and The Force were added to this cinematic gumbo, one just might be fooled into thinking that this was a new pre-Disney "Star Wars" movie.

Still from "The Creator." (Image credit: 20th Century Studios)

Overall, "The Creator" is an impressive spectacle that navigates some well-trodden sci-fi tropes yet remains slightly ahead of the curve thanks to solid performances and epic special effects. Sure, there are the glaring comparisons to nearly any Hollywood product showcasing an adult savior figure protecting a younger high-value target as seen in "The Mandalorian" and "Stranger Things," but it does offer a satisfying finale with a simplistic, humanist message to take home with you.

For its modest $80 million budget, the blockbuster movie looks like a far more expensive production. Edwards hasn't exactly reinvented the wheel here, but he has pumped up the tires nicely and given the exhausted genre a needed boost of professionalism and hope in a time when box office triumphs are very rare indeed.

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Jeff Spry
Contributing Writer

Jeff Spry is an award-winning screenwriter and veteran freelance journalist covering TV, movies, video games, books, and comics. His work has appeared at SYFY Wire, Inverse, Collider, Bleeding Cool and elsewhere. Jeff lives in beautiful Bend, Oregon amid the ponderosa pines, classic muscle cars, a crypt of collector horror comics, and two loyal English Setters.