Inception: Review – A disappointing mix of many other films

Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Tom Hardy, Ellen Page, Ken Watanabe , Dileep Rao, Cillian Murphy, Michael Caine, Pete Postlethwaite, Tom Berenger, Lucas Haas

Score: 6 /10 but 9 / 10 for the acting and effects

The big summer blockbuster by the director of The Dark Knight with an all star cast and high concept. It is bound to make a lot of money for all involved and be on many people’s favourite movies of the year. It just won’t be on mine.

That is right. Inception did not do it for me.

The tale follows DiCaprio as Cobb. A character who, through the aid of a machine, can enter people’s dream to steal ideas. He is asked by Ken Watanabe to plant an idea – Inception. He gets a new team together and the mission begins. They have to go through different levels of dream state to make the idea take hold. Many reports I have read about the film say that the story is complex and you need to multiple viewings to get to grips with it – you don’t.

It is a deceptively simple movie – a heist movie mixed in with lost love.

Initially I really enjoyed the film. The set up and the explanation of the dream world rules worked well and intrigued me and it looked lovely, but the more I watched the more I realised I had seen it all before. It had been described as a truly unique film.

It is not a unique film.

It takes so many elements from many other films that when I go over it in my head it feels like one of those mashup movie clips that can work so well.

I know it is not the done thing, but I will mention a few of the films and books that the film is composed of.

Nolan himself has mentioned the Matrix and Bourne films. The main film that seems to be the source of the film is David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ – different levels of reality and you are not sure which is the real one.

During the mission Cobb’s memories of his dead wife, Marion Cotillard, mean she appears to wreak havoc on the proceedings. If anyone has read Michael Marshall Smith’s Only Forward will see incredible similarities between this and their initial journey into the Dream world where they end up learning the rules of what the can and cannot do. Cobb also learns that he can never go back to what was lost.

Then there are the Bond influences mixed in with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare scenes. Add a touch of Vanilla Sky, a hint of Oceans 11, a bit of Reservoir Dogs, some Jacob’s Ladder, a dash of The Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind and so on and so fourth.

It was so frustrating as the acting, score and visuals are absolutely brilliant. All of the actors involved give their all to the film – the stand outs being Tom Hardy’s Eames, a funny take the piss character who can also kick your arse as seen in the Modern Warfare 2 scenes in the snow, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Arthur, Cobb’s right hand man who has great fight scene in a twisting, tumbling corridor.

Cillian Murphy was the target for the team and you end up feeling incredibly sorry for him, but you do wonder why they have to go to all the trouble that they do to plant the idea. As my wife said, why not just hypnotise him.

The special effects are excellent, but do not intrude on the film. You will have seen most of them in the trailers and the scenes of cities lifting into the sky and falling into the sea make up a tiny part of the proceedings.

I have enjoyed Christopher Nolan’s films in the past. I love Memento and the Batman films, but didn’t enjoy The Prestige or Insomnia. Some of the editing problems that have crept up in his films were not as noticeable in this new one. Yet in all of them I felt there was a clinical coldness to them, a film school ethos that is stuck to in all of them. I suppose another way of looking at it is that they have no heart. They all give the illusion of heart but there is an emptiness behind them. Inception is no different.

Having been so excited with the build up to the film and the excellent responses people have had to it I do feel as if I have seen the Emperor’s new clothes. The feeling of disappointment I still feel about it is palpable.

What are your thoughts on the film?

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  1. Richard Bodsworth /

    Not sure I agree with your “no heart” statement, Phil. Obviously it’s hard to avoid spoilers, but I really enjoyed the emotional stuff. Nolan presents it nicely without need to pull on the heartstrings like a lesser director would.

    I do agree about Tom Hardy though – brilliant.

  2. Just because Inception references other films visually doesn’t mean it isn’t original – there’s nothing wrong with a bit of homage. And if the characters are using their memories to create these worlds, who’s to say they aren’t using their own memories of Bond movies (and the rest) to populate it?

    Nolan has spun his own quite unique tale and there are some nice threads running through it which add a few layers. I enjoyed it as a whole and can’t wait to see it again.

    • I like that about the characters bringing the Bond influence in with them.

      It wasn’t so much the visual homages that bothered me though, just the story elements that seemed lifted out of other tales. Maybe if the whole thing hadn’t been marketed as being unique and original if would not have bothered me so much.

  3. Robbie /

    My issue with critiquing films like this is that ANY movie can be broken down into its constituent influences – it doesn’t follow that the movie itself is therefore not unique.

    You say Nolan’s namechecked The Matrix and Bourne. Take The Matrix: that film in turn was drawn from many sources, including anime (esp Ghost In The Shell), William Gibson, Philip K Dick, etc etc.

    But what was unique about The Matrix wasn’t its constituent ideas. It was how it marshalled those ideas into a fresh new story – one that engaged and enthralled audiences in their millions.

    Films need these touchstones in order to connect with their audience. I can’t think of a single film – be it arthouse, blockbuster, whatever – that presented an entirely new idea to viewers. There’s nothing new under the sun. Nolan’s triumph in Inception is exploring these well-worn tropes in an entirely fresh and exciting way.

    Look at the references above. Bond, Gondry, Call Of Duty, Cronenberg – I’d throw in Kubrick as well. That sounds like a unique combination to me.

    • Of course you are right about every film being influence by what has gone before and usually I can watch a film while being aware of its influences with no problem.

      I don’t usually review films by going over what has influenced them or where ideas have come from. On this occasion it was those things that kept pulling me out of the film.

      Going by the films I like I should have loved Inception, but this time it just didn’t work for me.

  4. Jinja /

    LFF and the fact it’s your opinion makes it a fine review – everyone has their own opinion, love or hate!

    Anyway, not read the review as yet, nor have I seen the film – and a bad review will never put me off making up my own mind, but, I do have one question. Is the editing a awful as Batman Begins and the Dark Knight!?

  5. Good review man. I get what you are saying with people saying that it’s OUT OF CONTROL hard to understand. I haven’t seen this but I doubt I’ll need to see it again to understand it.

    I remember when I was a kid hearing about how 12 Monkeys REQUIRES two viewing just to understand, and I saw it and understood it just fine. I think this will be the same case. I think it’s just most people have a hard time coming to grips with new ideas when they are presented to you in a movie. Sure going into dream world isn’t anything new, but it’s not done often. Though it does boggle my mind when someone like Ebert says he thinks he has to see it again to understand it.

    Sure a lot of that is just hype, but it’s really annoying.

  6. pam fruendt /

    i’m seeing this film sat morning…i’ll let you know my take phil. you’re comments worry me though…i was so prepared to like this film.

  7. Andy /

    Watched it and loved it…more than dark knight! Although the editing sucked a$$!! This film puts the matrix to shame! This is the matrix with brains for adults..

  8. I wrote a very similar review to yours. I felt that it was just missing something, not sure if I could go as far as “heart” as you said, but the script/story just could not match the quality of the acting, visuals and music/sound design. Nice review.

  9. John Frawley /

    Anybody think the whole film is just Cobb in limbo?

  10. Anon /

    “why not just hypnotize them?” Because in the real world that doesn’t work and luckily for us apparently not in the world of Inception either.

  11. follenicki /

    Just came back from seeing the movie, and I must agree: the movie was a simple action movie, just rather than set in Europe or India or wherever, it was set in multiple levels of dreams. Once you got over the basic premise of dream-intrusion [which was admittedly cool, but lasted for about 10 minutes], there was nothing to set Inception apart from scores of other forgettable money-wasters. Basically, while the beginning was interesting, when the premise was being established, after the movie actually “started”– when they descended into dreams– I found myself checking my watch every 15 minutes or so. Then again, action films just don’t do it for me. But if you just want some good fight scenes, I guess this could be your movie. Just don’t expect anything novel or intellectually stimulating.

  12. DENNIS /

    I was lost in this film. I agree wholeheartedly with the review and I am relieved it was not just me. I enjoy film. I adore film. I enjoy watching a difficult story but this excellently acted, directed and produced film was a maze without a way out. You were left with WHERE IS THIS F…ING FILM GOING? Too many bombs and guns as well. A film on the power of the mind/brain requires a slow dialogue with only secondary action. It`s a maze you enter but can never be released from. This is where I have to agree it left me cold and it was very off-putting.

  13. YoDave /

    I didn’t care one bit about the man whose dreams they needed to infiltrate. You want me to care about global capitalism as something to root for??? If anything this film illustrated that the viewer is always a passive subject and you’re always going to need stronger heroin, a bigger dick with a bigger money shot, and a gazillion dollars of special effects to make my impotent life spurt 12 bucks into the movie machine industry.

  14. I think I would agree to this review. I was excited with the comments that I was hearing so I was pumped up to watch it having this big expectation that I will be very satisfied with it. Just like what the review said, I was captured in the first part, where the movie will force you to be in this state of awe and wonder as you try to figure out how or what is happening, and so I enjoyed it and had this feeling of awe but not until the 2nd level of the dream, I felt something like, yeah it was awesome, but there was nothing really new afterwards, well I mean it was cool that they were in the dream and that they had this really hard and dangerous mission, but then when they were doing it I felt something was missing, I just think that all it offered was the feeling of awe, but there was no element of surprise, in the first place they were in a dream, I mean you would not be surprised by anything in a dream, because you know that anything is possible to happen, and because of that, I was bored by all that were presented during the dream, because, it was just normal for a dream, and in the end, nothing was new.

  15. Hi
    I loved the film, but I too was really struck by the similarities with Michael Marshall Smith’s Only Forward, which incidentally I think would make an incredible film. Even, to a lesser exent the same author’s One of Us. I’m surprised so few people have commented on this.


    • I agree. It is odd that not many other people have picked up on the MMS similarity.

    • I am shocked and pleasantly surprised how many people drew the parallels with MMS’s “Only Forward”, Cobb keeps his wife “alive” in the same way that Stark keeps Rafe alive in the book. Sadly as the years go by, The Island and Inception will probably mean the Spares and Only Forward wont get made!

  16. I appreciate your critique, although I don’t necessarily agree with it. Perhaps this is because I watched this film from a very different perspective. As an avid lucid dreamer, I was interested in how the film represented the dream world. I thought it did a very good job of depicting very real phenomenon that occur within dreams. If you’re interested in my review, not of the movie, but of some of the dream phenomenon that the movie represents, check out the link…

  17. Also, I would venture to guess that people’s ability to identify or follow the movie, is directly related to their own dream experiences and abilities. If you’d like to see where YOU stand as a dreamer, take my Inception inspired dream quiz and find out!!

  18. G to the N /


    Everything comes from some place else, even your type of writting comes form all those authors you have read. I think is a little unfair to say that the movie is just a mix of thing you have seen before. What thing you haven’t seen before?? Come on…

    • I know exactly what you mean and usually knowing the inspiration of things doesn’t bother me, it just so happened that it did this time.

      There are many things I haven’t seen before – A goose riding a donkey while eating a donut, two nuns in a bath, God, aliens in a trombone suitcase, a meat covered power ranger (although I did draw a picture of one), and so on 🙂

  19. Dude, you’re way over analyzing the movie, sure if you over analyze anything, you’re gonna find flaws.

  20. Martin /

    Hmm, your review uses words which have been used in other contexts and is therefore so obviously derivative as to not be worth any credit.
    Having ignored the hype, any information about the film, and just seen it a few hours ago, it’s gradually striking me as about as good a film version of Only Forward I’ll see. All the more so for not knowing where it was going. And that’s a bonus on top of an excellently made film
    If your wife suggested hypnosis as an alternative, despite the arguments against being clearly explained, I suggest she either watch it again and pay more attention, or stick to less taxing fare. I believe SATC2 is extremely realistic.

    • Haven’t I read that comment before?

      Yaay, I must be doing something write if the comments are starting to have a go at my reviews 🙂

      Joking aside, Thanks for reading the review and glad you agree on the Only Forward side of things. Have you read my interview with Michael Marshall Smith?

  21. jason /

    I like your review, eventhough i haven’t watched Inception, i am a huge fan of Chris Nolan, and when you say there is no heart in his films, i kinda have to agree with you, there is always kind of sadistic element to all of his movies, he deals with little to none of the emotions in his movies, he cares more about story telling, plot development, character development, screenplay, dialogues, visuals.

    Actually i would not have ever believed that films could be great even without heart and soul to it (I thought only films which could touch your heart in many levels could be considered great), but now, i believe it every time i watch Nolan movies, they are just unbelievable effort of passionate filmmaking which lacks an element or two, but never fails to leave the viewers in awe.. every one of them he made , even Following (which he shot in black and white during his college days) doesn’t fail in this aspect.

    His movies may not have the heart in it, but he makes up with more mind to it.

    And i also agree that his movies are not the most original works, they are all adaptations of someone else’s work, this time he writes his own story for a change, he obviously would have lifted stuff from other works, but the fact is not where he begins, it how he ends , what he leaves us with..

  22. I don’t suppose I can say you are wrong in your opinion, phil, so I think I’ll go with–you picked apart the film too much and ruined it for yourself. but you will not be splitting us up. Inception and I are in love and when I walked out of the theater I had an amazing, powerful feeling–though I do have similar feelings with most movies scored by hans zimmer. I’m also in love with him 🙂

    • You could well be right. Maybe I went with the wrong mindset at the time I watched it, but that’s the way it goes sometimes. Glad you enjoyed it though

  23. adfwskawekfjkl /

    So the critics got fooled on this one. Half of this film is sensless chasing and gun fighting that did not serve the story in any way. Take the computer game half off and you are left with a film where Nolan tries had to proof how smart it is. But I wasn’t convinced. The ever climaxing loud score did a good job in covering the empty soul of this item.

  24. Godsend /

    “Why not just hypnotize him?”

    No offense, but I think you did not get the point of Inception. The plan is to plant an idea into Fischer’s mind without him being aware that somebody influenced him to create that idea. The idea of breaking up his Dad’s empire should come from deep inside of him. He should want to do it, not just merely be talked into it. If it was that easy, they could have just black mailed him or extorted him to do it right? That is the reason they have to plant the idea deeper into his subconscious. I like the way they represented the subconscious state of our minds: a safe where even the simplest ideas are formed and secrets are well guarded.

    About your comment that this is not a unique film and that it is a mix of several ideas from other films, isn’t that how films are created? You get inspired by another story and you put your own creativity into it and you come up with your own story. Take Stephen King as an example. Most of the inspirations for his stories were from other writers like H.P. Lovecraft. Maybe Nolan just had a lot of influences with this one and put them all together in one film. Anyways, it is a story brilliantly written and filmed. Kudos to Nolan!

    • Thanks for the comment. As for my thoughts on the film not being unique and a mix of other films I totally agree that most films are made that way. My point was that with Inception I really noticed the influences which kept pulling me out of the movie.

  25. Makeyourownmindup /

    How to perform a movie sting (SPOILER).

    1) Get a ‘cool’ director. One with a bit of edge and one who can make you think a little.
    2) During production spend 100 million on marketing and get the press to say ‘maybe people are too dumb to get this movie’.
    3) Get in a great natural actor and kill him off without barely speaking (Postlethwaite).

    If you like this movie where they HAD TO KEEP STOPPING TO EXPLAIN THE PLOT then you are an idiot.

    Oh, there is a chance that it WAS ALL A DREAM!



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