By Joshua McCormack

This reviewer was ecstatic when the teaser dropped in May 2023. An epic film of sweeping vistas and stunning visuals, built on a blockbuster scale, unburdened by the detritus of expectations that come with sequels, reboots, adaptations, remakes, and the latest franchise efforts, free to forge its own path …

How refreshing.

And while The Creator does strike many bells that distinguish it from the pack; set and sound design, visual effects and cinematography, it’s let down by a generic story and a script that, tragically, feels as though it were two drafts short of something incredible.

The story unfolds in the 2070s. An opening montage relays the events of the previous decades; how AI proliferated across the world, becoming ubiquitous in our day-to-day lives; how it developed into robots that acquired sentience; how tensions boiled between man and machine … culminating in a seismic event that sees all AI wiped out in the US.

Against this backdrop, ex-special forces agent, Joshua is recruited to hunt down and kill Nirmata – the Creator – the mysterious architect of an AI superweapon that could erase humanity from the face of the earth. This earth-shattering doomsday device turns out to be an AI child, the first of its kind.

As you might have guessed from such a setup, the dynamic between John David Washington’s solemn military man and Madeleine Yuna Voyle’s child AI falls into the trope of gruff elder paired with a soulful youth who prods them out of their shell. It’s a tried and tested formula and, thankfully, for Gareth Edwards, the director most renowned for 2016’s Rogue One, his two leads execute this dynamic with aplomb

Washington delivers a strong performance, pulling off both the intimate and wrenching emotional beats with convincing heart, proving his action-star chops once again as he charges through a carnage of inspired set pieces; Ken Watanabe gives solid gruff as an AI war veteran; while Gemma Chan tugs on the heartstring as his AI sympathising wife … but the clear standout is Madeleine Voyle; just eight years old when filming took place, she boasts a range that most adults would envy, effortlessly outshining her more experienced co-stars. But, despite this breath of acting talents, the visuals are where The Creator makes its mark. Shot on location in Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, with imagery redolent of ‘Apocalypse Now’, the film offers a seamless mix of practical and visual effects that, from cramped, neon-soaked streets to sumptuous mountain sprawls, is never anything less than a feast for the eyes.

Cinematographer Greg Fraser (Vice, Dune, The Batman) brings his flare for a frame to every scene, crafting shots worthy of any painting. Effortlessly accomplished, with not a rough patch to be spotted, you would think The Creator was brought to life with an eye-watering price tag … but no, $80 million, that was all.

To put this in context, Warner Brothers recent sci-fi outing, The Flash – the latest in a string of misfires at the box office – boasting visual that would embarrass a malfunctioning Playstation 1, cost $200 million

Beautiful shots, strong performances, technical miracles pulled off at a fraction of the cost, truly, a film punching well above its own weight … but then, there’s the story to consider; and things there aren’t half as rosy.

Now, there is nothing wrong with the story per se; no logic gaps or glaring plot holes, no awful dialogue or narrative cul-de-sacs, the story is serviceable, functional, competent … and, ultimately, uninspired.

Oh sure, the canvas is a rich one; humanity fighting a losing war against encroaching AI, the possibilities are endless, and unfortunately, The Creator chooses the safest option every time, delivering a derivative story that skirts around questions and ideas that could have elevated it into something incredible.

Those familiar with Edward’s previous blockbuster, Rogue One, will recognise a plot structure ripped wholesale from the Star Wars films, and worse still, the story’s inciting incident, that which catapults the war between AI and humanity into high gear, the bedrock on which the film is built, is explained away with a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it line, that feels like an afterthought.

And this is the great tragedy of The Creator; in every scene, the film is haunted, the audience tantalized by the ghost of what might have been.

The best comparison is Avatar. Go for the breathtaking spectacle, the sheer craftsmanship on display, and enjoy the story; it’s a diverting tale; fun and engaging … but don’t expect it to linger in your mind for years to come like the greats always do.