As a big budget, summer popcorn movie, Inception does the job. Great cast, lots of fun stuff blowing up, cool fight scenes, Tom Berenger.
But when you add in the occasional intriguing foray into "complicated issues," such as the power of dreaming and what constitutes reality, you've got a cinema experience that many people are describing as a "masterpiece."
Those people are wrong.
There aren't many masterpieces. The Godfather is a masterpiece. Raging Bull is a masterpiece. They're almost-perfect cinematic gems that have held up over time, which is really the only way to define a true, lasting movie.
Inception isn't anything close to that. It's also not as good as either of the Batman movies, as Memento, as The Matrix. The first two, despite being comic book movies featuring Christian Bale growling deeply, are more fleshed out and complete. And the second two touch on issues similar to Inception's, but with a more detailed, insightful approach. They are movies with stories that you can trace from A to Z, movies that use filmmaking methods, whether it's effects for The Matrix or roundabout storytelling in Memento, to dissect reality in an innovative fashion.
But Inception's story doesn't hold up. It contains a convoluted jumble of ideas, a plethora of vague insights and questions about reality that director Christopher Nolan's already explored far better in his earlier work. The movie never pauses to examine a thought for more than a fleeting second or two, which might actually be a good thing.
Whilst it drags on with a rapid-fire evaluation of these queries, it seems like Inception is also into being complicated for the sake of being complicated. Dream sequences piled on top of dream sequences; two-dimensional characters with no motivation, no purpose besides providing lengthy exposition; an X-Men 3-esque final scene that seems designed to draw attention away from the clumsiness of extracting the characters from the plot.
This isn't as bad as it sounds on paper, which is probably a testament to Nolan's skill as a director. But it certainly doesn't help, doesn't make the movie any more than it is. No one but Cobb (and maybe Saito) comes equipped with any kind of back story or reason for existing, and most of the "theories" being banded about on the Internet involve, as Dileep Rao (the Indian guy) put it, "negative evidence to support a story that isn't there."
Which means they're mostly speculation based on scenes not in the movie, guesses straight from people's heads. That can be interesting, especially if you're talking about a deep movie with thought-out twists and turns, but I'd prefer that it didn't define how I absorb my entertainment. If you want to imagine how something ends rather than see it end, go watch "The Sopranos."
Chris Nolan has made very few, if any, missteps in his directing career, and Inception isn't one of them. But it should be considered correctly -- an interesting, ultimately forgettable summer blockbuster. If it's changing the way you look at the world, or turning out to be something you think about for more than a week, you should probably get to the movies more often.