Oppenheimer (Mark Kermode movie review: all sci, no fi).

Our man of many movies, Mark Kermode, sits down for a film that is da bomb, da atomic bomb, to be precise – Oppenheimer. It’s a great review for our science section, but is it also a truly great movie? Watch the above to find out. But what did we think at SFcrowsnest Towers? Read on.

Crisply clocking in at ‘longer than the half-life of Plutonium-239’, Christopher Nolan’s ‘Oppenheimer’ sets out to accomplish the equivalent of splitting the atom in cinematic terms. We’ve had our share of mad scientists on film, but Cillian Murphy’s Oppenheimer easily takes the (uranium) cake with his journey from intellectual egghead to atomic-age Frankenstein. The film is a sprawling, multi-dimensional tapestry woven together with courtroom drama, romantic affairs, lab Eureka moments, and lecture hall ego parades. They all set the stage for the big baddie – mankind’s insatiable thirst for annihilation, portrayed more dramatically than any Bond villain could aspire to.

Robert Downey Jr’s performance as Lewis Strauss, the cunning chair of the US Atomic Energy Commission, rumbles across the screen like a seismic event. He’s the embodiment of all the boorishness and charm that have been harnessed and weaponised for political manipulation since time immemorial. While Murphy’s portrayal of Oppenheimer steals the show with his ‘all-knowing yet all-tormented’ eyes, Downey Jr. relishes every moment, leaving an imprint as potent as a nuclear shadow.

Nolan, no stranger to narrative gymnastics, gets quantum on us here, with a tangle of timelines – some are in colour, some in black and white, and some might well be in superposition until observed. Although this construct makes the movie a bit of a Schrödinger’s cat, it serves well to highlight the glaring contrast between Oppenheimer’s post-war betrayal and the blossoming of his guilt.

Despite a runtime that might just allow for a slow decay of Uranium-238, Nolan’s ‘Oppenheimer’ is never boring. It’s just like an afternoon spent wrestling with quantum mechanics – full of revelation, dread, and a headache that grows exponentially as you try to piece it all together. It does occasionally buckle under the weight of its ambitious payload, just like our frail, book-laden protagonist. But then again, any attempt to explain the life of the father of the atomic bomb without making your brain feel like it’s undergone nuclear fission would probably be selling the story short.

One can’t help but feel that Nolan wanted ‘Oppenheimer’ to echo the destructive impact of its eponymous character’s invention – to be at once awe-inspiring and horrifying, causing audiences to question the balance of power and knowledge. So grab your popcorn (and perhaps a physics textbook), strap in, and prepare for a critical reaction to this fascinating monster movie, which releases internationally from 21st July 2023. You’ll come out understanding Oppenheimer’s predicament a bit more, and wishing you could go back in time to pay more attention in your high school physics class.

And no. We won’t pretend Barbie is a fantasy film and review that, too!

Oppenheimer (Mark Kermode movie review: all sci, no fi).
Oppenheimer (Mark Kermode movie review: all sci, no fi).


Colonel Frog is a long time science fiction and fantasy fan. He loves reading novels in the field, and he also enjoys watching movies (as well as reading lots of other genre books).

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