So, I saw Inception. I went in with extremely high hopes, not only because basically every critic told me it was great, but because I have a deep love of mind-bending sci-fi. Better still if it’s actually minds being messed with. Unfortunately Inception is less a mind-bending sci-fi experience than it is a clip show of poorly shot action scenes stretched far longer than is considered acceptable in polite company and padded out with some of the most tedious exposition I’ve seen in a while.
It’s astonishing how little the fact that characters are inside dream worlds matters. No, I don’t mean that the wall clocks should dance about or that the sky needs to be purple. I mean there’s utterly no reason for these characters to be hopping around in dreams, other than that it offers a quick and simple transition to new dull leftover movie sets. You could have added some interstitial scenes and it would be indistinguishable from any action/heist movie made in the past decade.
The explanation given is that the mark needs to believe that a dream world is real in order for them to remain undetected by his “subconscious”, and to keep him from waking up. This explanation is given because Christopher Nolan has no imagination. I don’t know about everybody, but I don’t experience dreams as perfectly normal mundane settings without any strange qualities or differences from real life. I don’t notice I’m in dreams because of how weird they are, I notice after the fact that they were strange upon waking. Hell, within the movie they emphasize how you can use impossible architecture like infinite staircases to keep dreamers from noticing how small the world you created for them is, and to keep them within the bounds you want. Then they don’t use it again, excepting one sight gag. Because Christopher Nolan is boring. Hell, he never even uses say, a group of old lady subconscious denizens to attack the protagonists, only Anonymous Goons which are representative of a trained mind defending itself. Why can’t the trained mind defend itself with a legion of ex-girlfriends armed with rocket launchers? Christopher Nolan is boring.
Characters are, at best, sketchy. Dom Cobb is played perfectly well by DiCaprio, but it’s startlingly similar to his Shutter Island role. The rest of the team are barely there. The Architect, Ariadne, is there to ask for exposition because she’s new. Luckily for fans of clunky exposition, she’s given an exhaustive lesson. Then another, a bit further into the film. Then another. It’s as though Nolan suddenly decided halfway through production that his film would be too confusing for audiences, so he added someone to hold our hands. The man who hires Cobb is well acted, but is “businessman”. And nothing else. Joseph Gordon Levitt gets some good lines, and plays a decent uptight cop-type, but he plays off of nothing. There’s never really a reason for him to be there. He’s given a neat action sequence, though. The doctor they get to help them with their sedatives is barely a person. There aren’t really any personal or professional issues, or any character development between the team. Hell, there’s not even a throwaway romance B-plot, as is standard in heist movies.
The one good bit about the characters is that Tom Hardy is interesting to watch as Eames, a man who can “forge” within dream worlds, basically making him a shapeshifter. He briefly lays out the mission as a combination heist and therapy session. Unfortunately, after that he basically just carries a gun and shoots quite literally faceless goons. No wait, not literally, that might have been interesting. Boring goons.
The plot is: heist movie. Gather team, perform heist, etc. It’s fluffed out by some silly setting mechanics (to get out of a dream you need to do X. To get out of a dream within that dream you need to do Y then X and so on) that are significantly less cool to hear about and watch than safe-cracking or explosions. There’s a sheen of psychological elements that aren’t really elaborated, which leaves fans to elaborate massive edifices of explanation that clear up all the plot holes and fill in the blanks Nolan left because he was lazy with ideas that aren’t even remotely suggested.
The same way people who loved Avatar all have an elaborate reason for why they called it “Unobtanium” beyond “James Cameron is a dick”.
Except for the fight scene with Joseph Gordon Levitt and Anonymous Guy, action sequences are the same confusing jump-cuts that you’ve come to expect from the surprisingly disappointing Batman Begins/Dark Knight fight sequences.
Inception treads upon territory covered dozens of times by people much more interesting than Nolan. Phillip K. Dick wrote about 80 novels that take the “what is real?” theme and just mess with your head and leave you wondering at the craziness and ingenuity of the author. J.G. Ballard actually possessed the ability to trap unsuspecting readers in worlds of his own creation and toy with them.
Inception is too simplistic to be mind-blowing, too boring to be fun, and too much of an action movie to make you think.
But if I’m going to be honest: you’ll love Inception. I appear to be in the minority. So I guess I can actually recommend this movie, unless your tastes perfectly match mine.