I Had a Blast at The Creator, but Its Lukewarm Reception Complicates That

I caught a glimpse of The Creator‘s trailer as a skippable ad on YouTube the day before it released. I mashed that skip button with the quickness, not because I was so anxious to get to the WR speedrun of Wii Sports golf I had queued up, but because with just a few seconds of Gareth Edward’s film to go on, I knew two things: I’m seeing that cold; and it has to be before the conversation starts.

Now to me, there’s no such thing as spoiler territory. Territories have boundaries. Spoilers are everywhere. Even headlines in my newsfeed. And here was a new, original sci-fi epic on the order of The Matrix! Usually, spoilers don’t ruin movies for me. Sure, I’d rather experience a twist, betrayal, or jump scare fresh, but if I find out something meant to be secret ahead of time, I can usually adjust and instead appreciate the lead up to it. I can admire the subtext, if it exists, that you might otherwise wait to find on a second viewing. But since The Creator isn’t an adaptation, it was the first time in a long time that something could even be spoiled for me.

However, what I was more worried about was the inevitable influence reviews and news coverage would have on me if I came to it “late,” which could be as soon as opening weekend is over. I love reading criticism, reviews, and short takes in comment sections, even when spoilers abound. I can separate those opinions from my own, but if something is repeated across a film’s reception, or if a phrase from a passionately positive or negative review sticks with me, I will inevitably hear them in my head as I see the film for myself. Of course, that’s one of the main points of criticism. And it’s an important one, too. It’s awesome when a clever critic helps me form or articulate my thoughts! This time, though? I can’t decide if I should be questioning my own taste or that of the harsher critics.

So, two days later, I came out of the theater on a cinema high I’ve only had a few dozen times in my life. At least twice per act, my friend and I would turn to each other in popcorn-flinging, ‘Oh, shit!” fits of pure joy. The last time would probably have been Dune, but I saw that as an at-home release. Going backwards from there, it had maybe been since 13 Assassins? The Creator was scene after gasp-worthy scene. So I was shocked as I jumped online to geek out with what I assumed would be fans feverishly swapping favorite moments, images, and theories. Instead I was met with the film’s total damnation by faint praise.

I pretty much get the gist of both The Creator‘s mild and harsh critics. The former tend to see it as a paen to our future AI overlords. The latter call it pablum for sci-fi fans without an original bone in its body. In fact, some even connect one take to the other, reminding viewers that, by definition, AI art itself is not original. Which, I’ll admit, is a perfectly meta criticism.

But let’s head that off. Everything is a remix. Even perceived originality in genre films can be shrugged off as cosmetic or as an arrival at an old destination from a different angle. So to me, blasting The Creator as derivative of Blade Runner (as many critics have), is like an animation fan claiming to dislike any post-90s mecha anime because Evangelion exists. So, I’m left incredulous. Ironically, the conversation surrounding this lush, rousing film is about how it was cheap and uninspired.

Instead, we should be talking about The Creator as an excellent new entry to a beloved tradition. It’s a subtly important difference from being wholly original.

After all, being derivative didn’t hold back Avatar. It didn’t hold back The Matrix or John Wick. It didn’t hold back Everything Everywhere All At Once. In fact, being derivative doesn’t tend to hold back any story, such as these, that get the benefit of being defined as part of a tradition. And I would argue that none of those examples rise above the tropes of their respective subgenres. What they did with those tropes is what counted. Some inspired worldbuilding notwithstanding, none of them tell a story that is more “original” than what The Creator attempts. More nuanced? With better performances? Sure, but probably only in EEAAO‘s case.

Have I made a point? I hope so. It has to do with being baffled that a movie I loved didn’t resonate with more people. And that’s okay. Moreover, it has to do with loving when tropes and tradition are used well. It has to do with worrying that when a genre film owes a debt to a previous milestone, critics will race to take the piss out of it. It has to do with style sometimes deserving to be put over substance. And it has to do with fearing that, as lucrative as sci fi is at the movies, there’s precious little room for a spectacle like The Creator when it doesn’t do James Cameron Numbers. And I might half-heartedly be wishing that critics and fans gave louder praise to the film as push back against that.

Go see The Creator in theaters! Worst case scenario: You’re out a twenty, but you get to hop on the comments or our Discord, Zoidberg-style, and tell me my opinion is bad, and I should feel bad. Best case scenario: You enjoy the hell out of it, and we continue to get a small trickle of original sci fi epics at the theater.

Featured Image: 20th Century Studios

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