‘The Creator’s Gareth Edwards Makes Post-Apocalyptic Worlds Feel Like Home

The Big Picture

Gareth Edwards has managed to maintain a distinctive voice among big-budget directors, with a focus on sci-fi narratives that juxtapose large-scale storytelling with very human characters. Edwards loves to create apocalyptic worlds where sci-fi characters and trappings have existed for ages, reflecting his interest in chronicling rich lived-in spaces visually. Humans do not rule in Gareth Edwards movies, as he often showcases the smallness and insignificance of humans compared to the larger forces and creatures in the universe.

Many directors who spend lots of time in the modern franchise movie machine end up sacrificing any sense of their own distinct creative sensibilities in the process. To work on one of these massive tentpole projects is to often give away opportunities to really speak to your own worldview and thoughts. While nobody will claim Godzilla and Rogue One are deeply personal auteur productions, they are both remarkably similar to the original works of director Gareth Edwards. Even after spending so much of his career working on Warner Bros. and Disney blockbusters, Edwards has managed to solidify a distinctive voice among big-budget directors.

That voice is especially apparent in terms of the genre all four of his directorial efforts (which also include original titles Monsters and The Creator) inhabit: the realm of sci-fi storytelling. Edwards loves cosmic storytelling, but specifically sci-fi narratives that are happening to discernibly real people. Even the characters of Rogue One, his only film to take place off of Earth, are not powerful Jedi but rather ordinary folks grappling with powerful matters unbelievably bigger than themselves. This interest in juxtaposing large-scale sci-fi storytelling with very mundane human characters may have originated through budgetary necessity on his directorial debut Monsters, when he didn’t have a lot of money to render lavish lives for his protagonists. However, this dissonance has become one of the core thematic tenets of the fascinating filmography of Gareth Edwards.

Gareth Edwards Loves Apocalyptic Worlds That Have Existed for Eons

Image via 20th Century Fox

Another key recurring detail across the works of Gareth Edwards is his affinity for telling stories set in apocalyptic domains where sci-fi characters and trappings have existed for ages. Edwards is not interested in “origin tales” or sci-fi yarns about when humans first made contact with aliens. By the time Monsters begins, gigantic beasts from outer space have been causing chaos across Mexico for years. Rogue One’s entire plot is predicated on it taking place well over a decade into the Empire controlling that galaxy far, far away. In the alternate timeline that The Creator inhabits, robots have existed since the 1950s and humans have been at war with these mechanical entities for years.

Even Godzilla opens with flashbacks establishing that the titular lizard has been around since the 1950s and that one of the nefarious MUTO’s first caused devastating destruction back in 1999. The movies of Gareth Edwards exist in worlds where the extraordinary has become ordinary while humanity now inhabits a planet that’s a shell of its former self. Only Godzilla really exists in a version of Earth or another planet that isn’t going to Hell in a handbasket very quickly and even then any of the landscapes Godzilla rampages on eventually turn into the damaged domains Gareth Edwards is so fascinated with. Meanwhile, Monsters unflinchingly depicts how the human world is being turned upside down by massive cosmic critters while the glimpses we see of America in The Creator make it look dystopian. It’s become a nation so consumed by vengeance that it’s rotting from the inside out.

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These specific types of domains reflect the interest Gareth Edwards has in chronicling worlds that carry a rich lived-in quality visually. Even the far-away planets of Rogue One are populated with backdrops that suggest tangible wear and tear. Years of robots, outer space monsters, and Stormtroopers being common sights have taken their toll on both the people and the land they inhabit. This affinity results in some truly fascinating visuals across the works of Gareth Edwards and makes his heightened worlds extremely believable. The settings in Gareth Edwards movies are not pristine landscapes rendered on a computer, viewers can clearly see the consequences of inhabiting such unorthodox domains.

In addition to enhancing the immersive nature of his features, these apocalyptic lived-in spaces also help justify the grim tone that permeates the filmography of Gareth Edwards. While his projects aren’t devoid of moments of levity, typically this man’s directorial effort opt for more brutal atmospheres that aren’t afraid to go dark if the occasion calls for it. The innately finite nature of these apocalyptic settings, the dark tones of the overall movies, and even his attitude towards human beings are all also seen in this filmmaker’s love for killing off his main characters. The protagonists of Monsters perish in the film’s prologue without the audience initially realizing it while Rogue One was famous for killing off all its lead characters in an appropriately downer ending. Gareth Edwards isn’t afraid to follow the apocalyptic qualities of his works to their natural conclusion. Plus, a penchant for slaughtering protagonists fits into another key theme of Gareth Edwards as an artist: humans being surpassed by other creatures.

In Gareth Edwards Movies, Humans Do Not Rule the Earth

Image via Vertigo Films

Initially, the climax of Monsters seems to be heading in a familiar direction for a monster movie, as lead characters Andrew (Scoot McNairy) and Samantha (Whitney Able) are trapped in a gas station as two massive beasts begin to descend on this location. This is it, the humans will have to duke it out with these cosmic entities. However, the sequence quickly reveals that the focus of these animals isn’t to eat two humans, but rather to engage in some sort of mating ritual. Andrew and Samantha watch this example of explicit intimacy in awe. These creatures have lives that go far beyond these puny humans. They’re not monsters set on destroying humanity, they’re just animals who likely don’t even think about human beings. It’s a sequence epitomizing how Gareth Edwards is always engrossed by narratives emphasizing how small human beings are in the grand scheme of existence.

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Later in his 2014 film Godzilla, Edwards has scientist Dr. Ishirō Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) wax poetic on how “nature has an order, a power to restore balance” before explaining that he believes Godzilla is that power. Humans and their weapons cannot save our world or fight off the destructive MUTOs, we must bow before the might of Godzilla. This is encapsulated in a climax where a plan by human beings to send out a nuclear bomb to destroy the MUTOs ultimately does nothing but cause even more problems. The warhead is useless in the face of these monsters, a microcosm of the role human beings occupy in this universe. The humans in Godzilla are so overwhelmed by the monsters around them that writer David Ehlrich penned a piece for The Dissolve in May 2014 claiming that the film was “the first post-human blockbuster.”

The Creator, meanwhile, takes this idea of humans being supplanted to another level by hinging the entire plot on protagonist Joshua (John David Washington) protecting a robotic youngster, Alfie (Madeleine Yuna Voyles), from human beings who see all robots as a threat that needs to be wiped out. Whereas Monsters and Godzilla contrasted human beings with greater animals that don’t necessarily think like people, The Creator depicts humanoid robots that often express more humanity than individuals made from flesh and blood. In this particular comparison between man and machine, Edwards expresses more explicit contempt for the foibles of humanity, particularly regarding the way people dehumanize populations different from them.

Even Rogue One depicts a universe where (in keeping with Star Wars lore) humans are just one of many species walking around trying to make a day-to-day living while the power of the Death Star and the Empire reminds people like Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) that they’re dwarfed by forces they can barely comprehend. Meanwhile, a climactic scene with Darth Vader wiping out a bevy of Rebel soldiers echoes the way beasts in Monsters and Godzilla eliminate human beings. Vader, like those gargantuan, exhibits barely any effort in his carnage and there’s never any thought of these Rebels actually defeating their opponent. Temporary survival is the goal here, not victory. In the hands of Gareth Edwards and his gift for communicating scale, the smallness of human beings is always apparent. Whether it’s robots, beasts from outer space, or Darth Vader, there’s always something larger out there to remind humans just how miniscule we really are.

Gareth Edwards Offers a Unique Perspective Compared To Other Directors

Image via Warner Bros.

There are other recurring creative motifs in the works of Gareth Edwards, including his penchant for creating movies that work as standalone exercises (no credit scenes on even his big studio blockbusters like Godzilla) and his fascination with strained father/child dynamics. It’s also worth noting that Edwards, whether consciously or not, often makes works that feel like the antithesis to the jingoistic blockbusters of Michael Bay and other big-budget specialists. His titles often take place almost entirely outside of America and question the country’s military might. Bombings across various parts of Mexico in Monsters are depicted as a major problem while viewers are supposed to sympathize with non-white robot fighters against the U.S. Army in The Creator. Perhaps because this British filmmaker didn’t grow up waving the red, white, and blue his entire life, Edwards is a little more open to questioning the morality of America’s military actions in foreign territories.

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There’s clearly lots to break down in the works of Gareth Edwards, though the most interesting elements tying together all his films tends to be his love for the apocalyptic and non-human entities. Gareth Edwards is transfixed by stories that question whether our world even belongs to the human race while showing our civilizations crumbling into dust. These proclivities have some interesting side-effects on other aspects of his movies, namely in leaving certain supporting human characters in Godzilla and The Creator being shallower than they should be. Edwards loves monsters and robots more than people, but did that mean Sally Hawkins had to play a totally nothing character in Godzilla?

Still, these qualities, combined with the man’s gift for stirring visuals (few modern blockbuster directors can communicate scale so effectively) make Gareth Edwards a fascinating director. Most other big-budget filmmakers are fascinating in always framing the worlds of Sonic the Hedgehog, Transformers, and other fantastical characters through “ordinary” human eyes. Sometimes this does produce interesting movies, but often it just produces stories that zap all the interesting larger-than-life elements out of beloved characters and worlds. Gareth Edwards, meanwhile, is compelled by darker yarns that are all about emphasizing the superfluousness of human beings. Even when he was making Rogue One, the second Star Wars movie made under the Disney brand, this filmmaker remained steadfast in realizing a story that was all about morally-complicated heroes who don’t live to see the positive consequences of their actions. The war against the Empire is bigger than Erso and company, much like how the other characters in the movies of Gareth Edwards are also dwarfed by the worlds they inhabit.

The obligations of mainstream genre cinema means he still has human protagonists in his features. Considering this obligation, one wonders if the blandness of Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Godzilla protagonist is some act of protest against the idea that this guy is even necessary in a Godzilla movie! However, these humans are not around in the works of Gareth Edwards to be the surprise saviors of his films. Edwards dedicates entire scenes of his features to MUTOs engaging in a mating ritual or montages of robots partaking in religious practices to emphasize that both the human characters and human audiences members are here to gaze upon larger beasts and machines surpassing us. Clinging to this thesis has ensured that Gareth Edwards, even when working in the worlds of Godzilla and Star Wars, hasn’t lost that sense of identity he established with Monsters years ago.

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