The Sci-Fi Thriller Epic That Is Surprising Everyone

By Jeffrey Rapaport | Updated

The Creator

Gareth Edwards, the visionary British director, offers the perfect antidote for our cinematic landscape suffering from acute franchise fatigue—his new epic sci-fi thrillerThe Creator. This breath of cinematic fresh air is winning over critics and could persuade legions of filmgoers to crowd theaters once it premiers on Friday, September 29th. 

The Creator, by director Gareth Edwards, is this year’s biggest original sci-fi film, and it’s being mildly praised by critics.

Film fans might know Edwards from his debut, the indie sci-fi wonder Monsters, demonstrating impressive visual effects are not the exclusive domain of mega-budget films. Indeed, his shoe-string budget masterpiece was a testament to talent and ingenuity. Edwards went on to direct the 2014 franchise reboot Godzilla and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story a few years later, in 2016. 

Fast forward a little less than a decade, and Edwards is back: this time, with a project seemingly surpassing his debut and subsequent two films in entertainment value and conceptual ambition. And all on the (relatively) modest budget of $80 million. 

Many sci-fi films have tackled AI, but The Creator is the most timely, given the real rise of AI in the last year.

That project? 

The Creator, which, serendipitously topical, concerns AI and a future world steeped in a massive struggle between humanity and artificial intelligence. The principal story revolves around a pathos-laden bond between a rugged military man, played by John David Washington (from Tenet), and an android (referred to, in the film, as a “simulant”) child, played by Madeleine Yuna Voyles. The latter owes her existence to the enigmatic creator-deity, producing a hybrid human-machine race capable of untold power and destruction. 

John David Washington in The Creator

In The Creator, the two embark on a compelling quest for survival and to ascertain the whereabouts of Washington’s missing wife (played by Gemma Chan). Critics, so far, love the film’s deftness in merging high sci-fi concepts and genuine emotional depth, where the human-AI bond, almost paternal, navigates the staggering conflict between humanity and artificial intelligence. 

Critics especially praised the film’s immense visual prowess. Shot on locations across the Far East—think impenetrable jungles and distant shorelines—The Creator recalls cinema verité documentaries and trippy war films like Platoon or Apocalypse Now. Each shot blends true-to-life on-site visuals with skillfully layered digital special effects. The combined result is impressive, as the thin line between reality and unreality dissolves. 

The Creator currently enjoys a 78 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, while on Metacritic, the film retains a 66 out of 100—i.e., “generally favorable reviews.” Overall, experts were entranced with the movie’s visual sensibility—though some felt the writing was occasionally uneven.

Despite The Creator’s above-mentioned, less-than-humongous budget—and in light of the mounting critical praise—it’s nonetheless difficult to say, with certainty, whether the film will prove profitable.

In writing for Collider, Maggie Lovett gushed over the film’s originality and its narrative’s uniqueness, though she added: “[t]he script might have glaring flaws and painfully ambiguous morals.” While Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian saluted the thriller’s subtle and tasteful take on AI. He called the sci-fi epic an “[…] intriguing, stimulating, exhilarating movie, which does address—with both head and heart—the great issue of our age, AI.” And Deadline Hollywood’s Pete Hammond praised The Creator’s ability to provoke thought—dubbing it “[…] one of the most thought-provoking movies in some time, one to which attention must be paid.

Despite The Creator’s above-mentioned, less-than-humongous budget—and in light of the mounting critical praise—it’s nonetheless difficult to say, with certainty, whether the film will prove profitable. On the one hand, buzz abounds—and, after all, shouldn’t good movies (or movies that critics say are good) command attention? On the other hand, sci-fi films not based on previous and all familiar IP are notoriously a hard sell. This might make it more difficult for The Creator to earn a sufficient return than it should. Time will tell.