For the first time in years, blockbuster season hasn’t been dominated by superheroes. Instead, the summer belongs to two very different movies, one of which marks the return of Christopher Nolan. Oppenheimer finds itself going up against Greta Gerwig’s Barbie, which has the same release date. The contrast has inspired an unofficial double bill fans have nicknamed “Barbenheimer,” where fans will watch both films in one day.
Beneath the hype is the return of one of cinema’s most influential filmmakers, telling a story that deserves to be seen on the biggest screen. Based on the biography American Prometheus, the film is the story of Robert J Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy), known to history as “The Father of The Atomic Bomb”. The film recreates his pivotal work on The Manhattan Project during World War II, the project that drove him to create the bomb before the Nazis, as well as the consequences of his creation.
Oppenheimer is one of his most spectacular films to date. For a movie of this scale, intelligence, and maturity to be released in the middle of summer is something we just don’t see anymore, and the director ensures that it is every bit as fulfilling as the action movies it is up against. Weaving two timelines together, one black and white and one colour, it’s a study of both the man behind the bomb and society as a whole.
The script questions whether scientists are responsible for the way their discoveries are used, and how (particularly in a time of peril) the term patriotism is as much of a warning as it is an ideal. After pondering the nature of time, space, and physics, Nolan delves into morality more than he has done with other recent work. He has assembled an extraordinary cast to deliver that objective, spearheaded by the masterful Murphy.
His role here couldn’t be further from Peaky Blinders’ Thomas Shelby, but there are shades of what made that character so effective: Murphy’s intensity, the weight with which each line is delivered, is essential in such a dialogue heavy film. The surprise package is Robert Downey JR as Lewis Strauss, a member of the Atomic Energy Commission and an opponent of sorts to Oppenheimer.
After fifteen years of Tony Stark, it’s easy to forget that these films are where the actor made his comeback: Zodiac, A Scanner Darkly, and Good Night and Good Luck showcased him as a standout support actor. Here, older and with more authority, he glides into such a prominent role with ease and becomes one of the star players in the ensemble. Matt Damon also shines as Manhattan Project director Leslie Groves, while Emily Blunt becomes more significant as the film progresses playing Oppenheimer’s wife Kitty.
After all the memes and hype, Oppenheimer proves to be the real deal. A film that will be remembered and discussed long after its cinema run, Christopher Nolan’s 12th film proves the filmmaker has no intention of slowing down.
Oppenheimer is in cinemas now