Look, it’s not that I don’t think Christopher Nolan isn’t one of the most highly talented filmmakers currently living on the face of the planet or that he doesn’t make well-crafted movies but simply that almost every single film he’s made has left me simultaneously impressed but also seriously underwhelmed, and ‘Oppenheimer’ (2023) might just be the perfect example of that in action because never have I seen such spectacle that had me leaving the cinema going “So that’s it?!”
‘Oppenheimer’ sees Nolan up to his old tricks, namely trying to be a multiplex Terrence Malick by editing his films in such a way that no scene lasts longer than 30 seconds hence giving the illusion of urgent momentum but at the expense of character and depth. Imagine a three hour long trailer for a film about Oppenheimer and that’s what you’ve got here and it immediately raises an important question — what the hell would Nolan do if he stopped dicking about with the chronology and sat himself and the actors down and filmed an actual scene? Does the thought of that terrify him more than nuclear annihilation?
The good news is that this push for constant forward movement means ‘Oppenheimer’s a relatively entertaining watch with everything flowing along nicely even if much of what we’re seeing isn’t technically that interesting (it only APPEARS interesting which is another one of Nolan’s sneaky tricks).
Other Nolan tricks also on display here including everything from — a pathological desire for parading his own intellectual credentials, an air of screaming self-importance and an over inflated ego undergoing rapid expansion as unlimited as a nuclear explosion itself, so if that’s your kinda thing you’ll have a blast here.
Still, none of these are impediments to enjoying the film or appreciating the skill on display. No, rather there are three distinct problems with the movie that preclude full on engagement and they can be located with mathematical precision, and they’re as follows –
1/ Nolan can’t, and shouldn’t, write sex scenes.
Much like his fellow boys-with-toys filmmakers such as Kubrick and Spielberg Nolan has demonstrated that if he directs a sex scene that it ends up an utter embarrassment. He might grasp the intricacies of quantum mechanics but when it comes to genitalia he’s a cack-handed moron. There’s a moment in ‘Oppenheimer’ when his wife (Emily Blunt) realises her husband’s been having an affair and the way she conjures up this realisation is more toe-curlingly idiotic than Eric Bana’s grief ejaculation in ‘Munich’ (2005). For a movie about particle physics this film is also laughably stupid.
2/ The entire film is about… pettiness?
So for all the banging on about the earth-shattering scale and historic implications of this movie I was more shocked to discover that, when it boils down to it, this movie is about one thing — Robert Downey Jr. being annoyed because Tom Conti didn’t say “Hello” to him. So it’s not about nuclear Armageddon, the deaths of thousands of Japanese civilians or the guilt of the creation of destruction but about a middle-aged man holding a grudge, which I’m pretty sure was once the plot for an episode of ‘Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman’.
3/ The nuclear explosion was pathetic.
So the big selling point for ‘Oppenheimer’ was the build up to the nuclear explosion, that massive fireball and how Nolan and his crew would pull off such a spectacle without resorting to CGI.
The countdown begins, the scientists put on their glasses and everyone holds their breaths until…
… and that’s it? Christ, Wile E. Coyote and ACME created bigger bangs!
Seriously, it’s the most underwhelming explosion I’ve ever seen on screen and because of the way its shot it’s impossible to determine if it’s a big explosion far away or a small explosion only a few feet distant meaning, from a certain point of view, it simply looks like Oppenheimer’s barbecue’s gotten somewhat out of control. So sure, it’s easy to crow on about how you didn’t use any CGI to create your atomic explosion when it looks like all you did was go down to the bottom of the garden and set your next-door neighbour’s wheelie-bin on fire.
Anyway, those were my only real issues with the movie and, as I said, it’s not that ‘Oppenheimer’ isn’t a good film or not worth your time but considering everyone’s declaring Christopher Nolan’s a genius then how come he’s made such a heavily flawed, mediocre, average movie? That’s the only interesting question I left the cinema asking myself.