Is Inception the Anti-Avatar?

New York’s David Edelstein drew first blood on Monday, but today five other New York—based critics impugned Inception’s masterpiece credentials — Indiewire’s Todd McCarthy, Movieline’s Stephanie Zacharek, the Voice’s Nick Pinkerton, the Observer’s Rex Reed, and, inevitably, Armond White. After months of sweaty blog hype, great trailers, and an early round of rapturous reviews, will Christopher Nolan’s $160 million dream-stealing thriller fall victim to critical backlash two days before it opens? And if so, isn’t this the complete opposite of what happened to Avatar?

Excitement over Inception, though, probably peaked last week when first responders were calling it things like a “Jungian’s Rififi” and a “Kubrickian feat of cinematic wizardry.” ‘Cause, really, where do you go from there? Are today’s pans indicative of what’s coming tomorrow and Friday, or will more raves just drown them out? Whatever happens, Hollywood can probably expect to learn an important lesson about critical hype cycles and when best to lift review embargoes.

Remember last December when everybody thought Avatar was going to be terrible — and then all the reviews dropped at once, everybody loved it, and the buzz took a swift and dramatic turn for the positive (and the movie grossed $3 billion)? For months, Fox fooled us with silly-looking trailers and even-sillier-looking toys, and we all just laughed and sharpened our knives. Then BOOM!

And if anyone ever puts us in charge of managing the publicity for a large-budget blockbuster, we’re definitely giving Armond White first crack at it.

Is Inception the Anti-Avatar?