The summer blockbuster is not supposed to be like this. Every year from May 1st, we are gag-fed hollow and characterless products that are so dismally written and epileptically edited that we step out of the theatre disappointed and forget, for our own good. There are exceptions of course: 2009’s Star Trek, Nolan’s own The Dark Knight in 2008 and pretty much everything Pixar does, but typically this movie season is high-concept, low-quality swill.
Only two things disappoint about Christopher Nolan’s follow up to the aforementioned Batman sequel. 1. It doesn’t play again’¦in full’¦from the beginning’¦as soon as the end-credits roll. 2. When I tried to get my feet to clap along with my hands, I ended up looking like a shaved ape. Have I adequately conveyed the intensity of my cine-gasm at such satisfying, intelligent and modern entertainment where every action, every scene, every jaw-on-the-floor moment is entirely motivated by character??? Yes? Good. Inception is going to smash your head open and feed on the glorious goo inside’¦
Plot-wise, the less you know going into Inception the better, and if you’ve set your eyes on the trailers with its spinning corridors and folding cities then you might be wondering what the hell it’s all about. Inception is the placing of an idea in the subconscious – during a shared dream state – so deep that the subject will have no idea that it was planted there. In this case, the inceptor is Cobb (DiCaprio) and his team, the inceptee – or victim – is Cillian Murphy’s very nicely dressed and very nicely wealthy Robert Fischer Jnr. That’s about all you’re getting, it’s for the best.
Ideas explode – literally, at one point – from the premise, breathlessly taking us from crowded chases in Mombassa to collapsing Paris streets, from a snow-bound mountain top fortress to entire cities made from the mind. Never are these stunning set-pieces trivial or shoehorned into developments merely to excite; Nolan has been working on his powerhouse puzzle for nearly ten years and you feel it. It is ruthless entertainment with a solid emotional core. It engages, excites and leaves you with something that will bounce around the walls of your noodle when you walk out of the theatre. If not, then the brassy bombast of Hans Zimmer’s magnificently epic score (with a little help from Johnny Marr) and the thunderous sound design should at least give you tinnitus, in a good way.
Inception may be a remarkable success of sheer thrill, with Nolan’s bewitching filmmaking alchemy working all its sound/editing/cinematography wonders, but there are niggles that may persist over time. Aesthetically, the snow sequence, with its white jumpsuits and machine-gun skiers, is a little too close to James Bond kitsch. The supporting cast are left slightly malnourished in the characterisation department, secondary to Cobb’s emotional journey and heavy, but always coherent, exposition. Even still, there’s good work from all players, with special nods to Ellen Page for not being annoying, Joseph Gordon Levitt for wearing a shirt and tie REALLY well and being part of one of the greatest movie-fights in recent memory – the gravity shifting corridor fight is utterly, giddily outstanding – and as many have noted, Tom Hardy is going to be a star. See Bronson if you don’t yet believe.
Nolan has been touted as a modern day Stanley Kubrick – although an admittedly more populist version – but these comparisons can only be taken so far. As an auteur blanketing every aspect of a project with his meticulous genius and creative quality, there are parallels. But the great Kube’s characters are in another spectrum of humanity than that of Cobb, Memento‘s Leonard Shelby, The Prestige‘s Robert Angier and even ManBat himself, Bruce Wayne. The 39-year-old (yes, THIRTY NINE) is closer to James Cameron in terms of pure money-on-screen value, but his films have characters where Cameron’s have caricatures. In that respect, to even compare the two is doing Nolan a severe discourtesy. THIS is total immersion, without the need for 3-D nudey blue cat-people’¦