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New Escapist Column! On “Interstellar”, “TENET” and the Competing Visions of the Future…

I published a new piece at The Escapist earlier today. With the release of TENET, it seemed worth taking a look at some of the core themes of the film.

TENET has most frequently been discussed in the context of its relationship to Inception, but it is perhaps most interesting to discuss in relation to Interstellar. Both of those films are about the relationship between the present and the future, exploring the dynamic between mankind and a projected future version of themselves. Interstellar is a story about the hope held by the future, but TENET offers a more cynical perspective.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

Non-Review Review: TENET

NOTE: I live in Ireland. Our cinemas are open. Evidence suggests that it is (relatively) safe for people to attend the cinema if they take the necessary precautions. However, I am aware that it is not safe in every country to do so, and I also understand that many readers may not feel safe attending their local cinema even in areas where the evidence suggests it is safe. As this seems to be a hot-button issue with all theatrical releases during the pandemic – but with TENET in particular – it feels important to stress this outside the body of the review itself.

This should go without saying, but given the nature of the current pandemic it is worth repeating: No movie is worth risking your life for. If you feel – or if information from sources you trust suggest – that it is unsafe to go to the cinema, then please do not go. I loved this film. I will see it in cinemas again at least twice within the next week, because it is safe for me to do so. This review should not be taken as an endorsement that the reader should feel they have to (or are expected to) risk their lives to see this film. With that in mind, here is the review.

“Time isn’t the problem,” insists Neil early in TENET. Like a lot of things that the shady operator says over the course of the film, this is not exactly true.

There is a lot riding on TENET. Almost none of this was intended when the film was conceived and produced. As the first major theatrical release since the coronavirus pandemic, TENET effectively shoulders the burden of saving cinema – particularly with a death of major releases between now and Wonder Woman 1984 and with the planned release of Mulan on Disney+. It’s a lot of weight for a film like TENET to carry. Time will tell whether it can succeed or not, but it makes a valiant effort.

Shattering the release window.

TENET rises to this challenge in a couple of ways. Most obviously, TENET is quite simply a triumph of blockbuster filmmaking. Director Christopher Nolan has boasted about how much of the film was completed using in-camera effects and how carefully choreographed it all was. TENET is a movie that showcases the power of spectacle, whether in its delightfully complicated action sequences or even in Hoyte Van Hoytema’s breathtaking establishing shots. TENET is a movie that demands as big a screen as possible, reminding audiences of the scale of such filmmaking.

However, there’s more to it than that. TENET is a film that feels curiously attuned to this cultural moment. It is a film that deals with many of Nolan’s pet themes and obsessions, but in a way that feels very much in step with the modern moment. It’s hard to summarise TENET without spoiling the movie, without revealing too much in terms of plot mechanics or character motivations, but TENET is a film about the breakdown of time itself. It is a film about the collapse of chaos and effect, and a world in which the future and the past are a war over the present.

A career highlight?

It’s an ambitious film. Nolan’s movies are frequently driven by high-concepts and abstract ideas, and the director is remarkable in his ability to build crowd-pleasing blockbusters around concepts like time dilation in Inception and the theory of relativity in Interstellar. If anything, TENET seems to push that idea to breaking time. As Neil repeatedly points out over the course of the film, he has a degree in quantum physics and he struggles to make sense of the film’s internal logic. Perhaps the film’s protagonist (known simply as the Protagonist) sums it up best, “Woah.”

TENET is an interesting film from Nolan in a number of ways. The villainous Russian oligarch Andrei Sator is probably the director’s scuzziest character since Insomnia or Memento. The film itself is perhaps Nolan’s most emotionally repressed since The Prestige. These sensibilities are blended with his more modern high-concept blockbuster aesthetic, and flavoured with a surprising amount of self-awareness. The result is a heady cocktail that is occasionally overwhelming, but never unsatisfying.

Well, masks are recommended at cinema screenings.

Note: Warner Brothers have specifically requested that reviews avoid spoilers. As a result, this review will talk rather generally about TENET. However, if you want to see it completely unspoiled, it is perhaps best to just take our word for it: it is good. It is probably even the best film we’ve seen this year. That is a very short review.

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New Escapist Column! On How “The Dark Knight Rises” Abolished Its Billionaire to Build a Better Batman…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. TENET reviews are dropping in under an hour, and DC Fandome is happening this weekend, so it seemed an appropriate time to take a look back at Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises.

The Dark Knight Rises is a particularly interesting project in the current climate. It’s become common to criticise the idea of Batman as a billionaire who spends his fortune to dress up as a bat instead of actually using it to help the poor and impoverished of Gotham. In that context, The Dark Knight Rises is a work ahead of its time. It’s a story about how Bruce fails Gotham in his role as a billionaire, how maybe Batman shouldn’t be “a man from privilege” and a story in which Bruce donates his family home to the city’s “orphaned and at-risk youth.”

The Dark Knight Rises is the rare superhero story to posit an actual and meaningful ending for its protagonist, and The Dark Knight Rises argues that the only possible happy ending for Batman is for Bruce to lose his fortune and be declared dead, understanding that maybe the mantle of Batman should go to another person who is more keenly aware of what it means to live in Gotham. It’s a very clever and very insightful commentary on the Batman mythos, and one that has aged remarkably well.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Video! Talking “TENET” on Turkish Television…

I had the pleasure of appearing on Showcase on TRT World earlier this week, to discuss the upcoming release of TENET and Christopher Nolan’s career in general. You can watch the segment below, if you want.

New Escapist Column! On the Cynicism of “Inception”…

I published a new piece at The Escapist earlier this week. Because Inception turned ten years old this week, it seemed like an appropriate opportunity to look back at Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster.

Inception is often discussed as a movie about movies, how the film’s team of dream infiltrators often feel like a team of filmmakers constructing an elaborate spectacle for an audience of one. However, this train of thought is rarely developed beyond the original premise. If Inception is a movie about movies, what exactly does it have to say about movies? How does it feel about them? The answers are surprisingly complicated and nuanced, especially in the context of a summer blockbuster from a director who clearly adores the format.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Escapist Column! On “Batman Begins” as the Perfect Superhero Origin Story…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine this evening. It’s the fifteenth anniversary of the release of Batman Begins, so it felt appropriate to look back on the film as the perfect superhero origin story.

Christopher Nolan dedicates Batman Begins to getting inside the head of Bruce Wayne, to the point that the villainous Ra’s Al Ghul and Scarecrow are defined almost entirely as counterpoints to the Caped Crusader. Nolan builds the character from the ground up, explaining everything about the character’s perspective and psychology – why he says what he says, why he acts like he does, why he thinks what he thinks. Most impressively, Nolan provides a meaningful answer to a question the character’s mythology long glossed over. “Why bats, Master Wayne?”

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

“… is Ra’s Al Ghul immortal?” Denny O’Neil, and Reflecting on a Bronze Age Batman Villain…

Denny O’Neil passed away last week, at the age of 81.

Many more informed and articulate individuals have written at length about the writer and editor’s contribution to comic books as a medium. In practical terms, Denny O’Neil was a crucial figure in the evolution of Batman, one of the medium’s most enduring characters. During the seventies, he served as a stepping stone between the bright and chirpy “New Look” of the sixties and Frank Miller’s gritty reinvention of the eighties. He also served as editor of the line during the nineties, overseeing beloved events like Knightfall and No Man’s Land.

This is to say nothing of O’Neil’s larger contributions to comic books. During the seventies, he served as the conscience of mainstream comics, reinjecting the sort of politics that had been largely missing since the earliest days of Action Comics and Superman. With runs on Justice League and Green Lantern/Green Arrow, O’Neil sought to engage the iconic DC superheroes with contemporary America. It was often clumsy, but it was always powerful. This is without getting into O’Neil’s hugely influential runs on books like Iron Man or The Question.

However, this week was also the fifteenth anniversary of the release of Batman Begins. This was a hugely influential superhero film, kicking off what might be considered the genre’s crowning accomplishment. Christopher Nolan’s film is heavily indebted to O’Neil, with O’Neil’s comic The Man Who Falls serving as a touchstone for the film’s approach to Bruce Wayne. However, the film was also notable for offering the first live action interpretation of one of O’Neil’s most sizable additions to the Batman mythos: Ra’s Al Ghul.

Batman has one of the most crowded and iconic rogues’ galleries in comics, packed to the brim with recognisable faces: the Joker, the Penguin, the Riddler, Catwoman, Two-Face, Poison Ivy, the Mad Hatter, the Scarecrow, Mister Freeze, Clayface. It’s a crowded field. Writers and artists are constantly trying to add to that, to add their own new characters to the mix. Very few actually catch on, with arguably only Bane and Harley Quinn managing to reach the top tier within the last thirty years. This makes Ra’s Al Ghul all the more impressive.

In the past few years, Ra’s Al Ghul has been cemented as an essential part of the Batman mythos. Both Arrow and Gotham featured the character as a major antagonist, anchoring season-long arcs, played by Mathew Nable and Alexander Siddig. (Liam Neeson reportedly even considered reprising the role for Arrow, even if he couldn’t make the schedule work.) The character has also been a staple of animated adaptations, going back to Batman: The Animated Series and continuing through Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Young Justice and Beware the Batman.

Ra’s Al Ghul has become such a fundamental part of the larger Batman universe that it is hard to imagine it ever existed without him. Nevertheless, he stands as one of the enduring creative legacies of writer Denny O’Neil and artist Neal Adams, who first introduced him to the Caped Crusader in the early seventies. In hindsight, as with Bane, it’s easy to see why Ra’s Al Ghul has endured in the way that he has. He fills an important gap in the larger Batman mythos. However, it was the genius of O’Neil and Adams to recognise that gap in the first place.

That’s what makes the character so fantastic. Despite being a relatively late addition to the Dark Knight’s collection of foes, he seems like he always belonged there.

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New Escapist Column! On “TENET”, and Christopher Nolan’s Fascination With Time…

I published a new piece at Escapist Magazine this evening. This week saw the release of the latest trailer for TENET, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to talk a bit about the work of Christopher Nolan.

Nolan’s filmography is absolutely fascinated by the flow and manipulation of time. It warps, distorts and bends around his protagonists. However, it’s a force that cannot be controlled or governed, but which acts upon the characters nonetheless. The trailer to TENET is interesting because it seems to suggest that the villain of his latest film has learned to manipulate time, which in the context of Nolan’s filmography suggests that he’s messing with the most primal of forces.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Podcast! The Movie Palace – “Batman! (1966)”

I’m currently caught up in the middle of the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival, but it’s not all festival coverage this week.

I had the pleasure of joining the great and generous Carl Sweeney on his excellent classic Hollywood podcast The Movie Palace. Recovering a bit from last weekend’s Oscars, Carl decided to take things a bit lighter this week, and so invited me on to talk a little bit about Batman!, the classic Adam West adaptation of the Caped Crusader, and one of the defining images of the Dark Knight in popular culture.

The discussion was quite broad, covering everything from the origins and appeal of the Caped Crusader to the charm of Adam West, and the lasting impact of the various “special guest villains” on later interpretations of the characters. The whole thing was a delight from beginning to end. It’s always a pleasure to talk films with Carl, but especially to talk Batman.

You can listen to the episode here, back episodes of the podcast here, click the link below or even listen directly.

New Podcast! On “Filibuster #147” Talking “Christopher Nolan: A Critical Study of the Films” with Lee Hutchinson and Dallas King

I had the good fortune to stop by the latest Filibuster to chat about my latest book with Lee Hutchinson and Dallas King. Lee and Dallas were, as ever, gracious hosts and t was a joy to discuss Nolan for an hour with two fans of contemporary cinema on their last podcast of the year. I hope you’ll give it a listen.

You can listen to the podcast directly at the Filibuster website, but you can also listen to it directly below. You can also buy Christopher Nolan: A Critical Study of the Film as a print or ebook from a variety of online (and bricks and mortar) stores now.