REVIEW ROUND-UP: Negative ‘Inception’ Reviews

You knew this was coming. Last week when Christopher Nolan’s Inception was sitting pretty with a 100% positive rating I rounded up all of the rave reviews into one post. At the time it seemed that the film was unstoppable and would end up with a Pixar level of appreciation among critics. However, one week later the negative reviews are mounting and the result is a still respectable, but not mind blowing 87% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Believe it or not, this back-lash gives me even more confidence in the film. No great movie gets unanimous praise. The best films usually divide the critics during the initial release and spark heated debates among scholars and casual film-goers. Even from the negative side of the aisle, the word is that Christopher Nolan will make you think and that is exactly what we want to do. Most of the negative reviews are from credible sources, but there are definitely a few party poopers and “I didn’t understand it, so it is stupid” members of the camp. Take a look at what some of the negative critics had to say:

Neil Smith from Total Film:

Zone out for 10 seconds and you’ll spend the next 10 minutes trying to catch up; miss one hurried exchange and you’ll be without a crucial piece of exposition that will have huge ramifications later. But in a way, that’s the problem. Inception may keep perfect time but it’s also a bit mechanical: an intellectual exercise that excites the senses while rarely stirring the emotions.

Beyond the satisfaction of seeing a well-planned heist unfold, there is nothing much for us to hold onto or root for.

And while DiCaprio’s unresolved history with Mal gives his character a motive, it’s not enough for us to feel for him way we did for his deluded detective in Shutter Island.

Nick Schager from Slant Magazine:

Whereas David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive expresses every nuance of its protagonist’s fractured psyche through suggestive aesthetics and plotting, Nolan merely relies on blather about the guidelines of plumbing the subconscious. And, like Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island (DiCaprio’s previous say-don’t-show head-game), he compensates for this situation by indulging in baroque imagery, though as is his penchant, Nolan’s latest doesn’t radiate hothouse need and passion through standout compositions, but rather, cool, icy menace.

Stephanie Zacharek from Movieline:

But that urgent simplicity, that directness of focus, is beyond Nolan: Everything he does is forced and overthought, and Inception, far from being his ticket into hall-of-fame greatness, is a very expensive-looking, elephantine film whose myriad so-called complexities — of both the emotional and intellectual sort — add up to a kind of ADD tedium. This may be a movie about dreams, but there’s nothing dreamlike or evocative about it: Nolan doesn’t build or sustain a mood; all he does is twist the plot, under, over, and back upon itself, relying on Hans Zimmer’s sonic boom of a score to remind us when we should be excited or anxious or moved. It’s less directing than directing traffic.

Harvey Karten of ShowBiz Forum:

The trouble with “Inception” is that there is scarcely a thread involved. In other words “Inception” violates the fundamental precept of visual and print entertainment, the “tell-me-a-story” idea that has fascinated us ever since mommy or daddy read from the Golden Book or, even better, made up a tale with a consistent piece of yarn running through it—which may just be why they sometimes call a story a yarn.

Nolan is so busy putting forth up to four separate yarns that he hopes to weave into a whole that at least some in the audience are prompted to wonder:  “What is that there for?  Why are people shooting at each other in Canada’s snow-capped mountains?  Why the car crashes?”

Rex Reed of The New York Observer:

Since there’s nothing to act, the cast doesn’t even bother. It’s the easiest kind of movie to make, because all you have to do is strike poses and change expressions. It all culminates on skis in the middle of a blizzard, as Leo is pursued by machine-gun-equipped snowmobiles, but you don’t even know who’s driving them. I have no idea what the market is for this jabbering twaddle-probably people who fritter away their time playing video games, which I’m willing to bet pretty much describes Christopher Nolan. He labors over turning out arty horror films and sci-fi action thrillers with pretensions to alternate reality, but he’s clueless about how to deal with reality, honest emotions or relevant issues.

Nick Pinkerton of The Village Voice:

That’s the idea, at least. With his inability to let actors occupy a scene together, Nolan couldn’t pass Pathos 101, and here he’s trying graduate seminar stuff. “The catharsis” at the center of Inception is based on Cobb’s choice… It’s deciding between eternity with a bitchy wraith, presumably sexless, like all of Inception‘s subconscious, or . . . that recurring sentimental snapshot-memory of his children? Dad Michael Caine, who drifts through the production? Ellen Page, barely considered for romantic-emotional counterbalance? There’s no push-pull around Leo’s torrid emoting, and when the “We’re awake now—or are we?” kicker catches you in the pants, who cares? It’s obvious that Nolan either can’t articulate or doesn’t believe in a distinction between living feelings and dreams—and his barren Inception doesn’t capture much of either.

David Edelstein from New York Magazine:

Nolan, who wrote the script, thinks like a mechanical engineer, and even when you can’t follow what’s happening, you can admire in theory the multiple, synchronized narrative arcs and cute little rules for jumping around among different flights of consciousness. He has two fresh ideas. In a dream, you can fall asleep and have another dream, in which you can fall asleep and have another dream—except time works differently at different depths. A minute up top might be, say, ten minutes in the dream, an hour in the dream within a dream, and, below that, years. Although the different levels look the same (too bad), the gimmick allows Nolan to have three clocks ticking down instead of one, and the editor, Lee Smith, has cut among them in ways so ostentatious that he’s all but sewn up this year’s editing Oscar.

One positive for the movie is that the man who is always wrong, Armond White, has also given the film a negative review. The critics I’m most interested in hearing from are the print critics whose reviews come out on Friday. The A.O. Scotts’ and Michael Phillips’ and Colin Coverts’ of this world will publish their reviews in accordance with the release date.

The disappointing thing that I’m seeing around the internet is fanboys who have yet to see the film jumping to its defense from all of these negative reviews. I have no idea how good the film is going to be, but I’m hoping for the best. Jumping down the throats of anybody who says it’s not a masterpiece is foolish and immature. Only 1.5 more days until the film will be washed over me at a midnight IMAX screening so exciting.

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  • “The disappointing thing that I’m seeing around the internet is fanboys who have yet to see the film jumping to its defense from all of these negative reviews.”

    I agree totally. I hesitate to even use the word “backlash” because it implies that the negative reviews were written directly in response to the early raves.

    Truth be told I haven’t read a single review yet, only a couple of opinions Edelstein’s, because I don’t want a single frame of the movie spoiled for me.

    I just don’t get why certain people need lockstep agreement on the movies they love. It’s a total internet/IMDB mentality and it’s annoying.

    Like you though, some of the negative reviews have helped let a little of the hot air out of my expectations. I can go into the movie without the feeling that I HAVE to like it. I can just watch it and judge it on its merits instead of drowning it in my own expectations.

  • Not too worried about any of these, particularly Zacharek’s pan. She, after all, gave “Jonah Hex” a better review than “The Dark Knight” and “Up”.

    In the meantime, Ebert’s review is up. Four stars. I don’t have a lot of respect for Ebert anymore, but he’s still way more credible than any of the guys listed above.

  • Going to pick on Zacharek again here:

    She actually mentions “Jonah Hex” and “The Searchers” in the same sentence (as a point of comparison). Just how messed up is that?

    As for Reed’s review, it basically boils down to “well, I didn’t understand it, so it must be bad”. Give me a break. Edelstein was at least reasonable.

  • Andrew R.

    A lot of these critics are idiots anyway. Ebert’s 4 star review is pretty much solidifying my desire to see it. It’s above 80%, which is a big acheivement, so it probably will be good, since I tend to agree with the Tomatometer a little too often.

  • Okay, I just saw it (my review will be up tomorrow for those interested in it). It’s simply amazing, and a triumph on every level. Edelstein, Zacharek, Reed, and the rest of these guys are wrong… again. But what else could you expect?

    Seriously. It’s simply amazing.

  • If Inception is the the thinking man’s blockbuster, than Sorcerer’s Apprentice is for the bullies that beat up those thinking men

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