review roundup

What Are the First Critics Saying About Interstellar?

The first round of reviews are now in for Christopher Nolan’s apocalyptic space and time-travel epic Interstellar, and they are decidedly mixed. Here’s what everyone (most major non-trade magazines and newspapers have yet to weigh in) is saying so far:

“Christopher Nolan’s overwhelming, immersive and time-bending space epic ‘Interstellar’ makes Alfonso Cuarón’s ‘Gravity’ feel like a palate cleanser for the big meal to come. Where ‘Gravity’ was brief, contained and left the further bounds of the universe to our imagination, ‘Interstellar’ is long, grand, strange and demanding – not least because it allows time to slip away from under our feet while running brain-aching ideas before our eyes. It’s a bold, beautiful cosmic adventure story with a touch of the surreal and the dreamlike, and yet it always feels grounded in its own deadly serious reality.” —Dave Calhoun, Time Out

“Already by this point — and we have not yet left the Earth’s surface — ‘Interstellar (which Nolan co-wrote with his brother and frequent collaborator, Jonathan) has hurled a fair amount of theoretical physics at the audience, including discussions of black holes, gravitational singularities and the possibility of extra-dimensional space. And, as with the twisty chronologies and unreliable narrators of his earlier films, Nolan trusts in the audience’s ability to get the gist and follow along, even if it doesn’t glean every last nuance on a first viewing. It’s hard to think of a mainstream Hollywood film that has so successfully translated complex mathematical and scientific ideas to a lay audience (though Shane Carruth’s ingenious 2004 Sundance winner ‘Primer’ — another movie concerned with overcoming the problem of gravity — tried something similar on a micro-budget indie scale), or done so in more vivid, immediate human terms. (Some credit for this is doubtless owed to the veteran CalTech physicist Kip Thorne, who consulted with the Nolans on the script and receives an executive producer credit.)” —Scott Foundas, Variety

“Yet there is too much fat outside of the core dilemma, especially as the film reaches an emotional peak at around the halfway mark. Moreover, many of the characters aren’t terribly engaging despite the fine and dedicated cast. It’s well-acted by all parties, but too many of the supporting characters don’t resonate beyond scientific talking heads. Michael Caine gives good exposition as expected, and both Jessica Chastain and Casey Affleck are hauntingly good as (no spoilers) desperate survivors of what may be the last generation of humanity. Anne Hathaway gets but one terrific monologue about quantifying human emotion while the rest of the outer-space/NASA folks are relatively dry (that Hathaway is the main female character yet is, slight spoiler, both distracted by would-be love and needs to be rescued costs the film a few points). McConaughey is fine as a would-be audience surrogate, and he benefits from having most of the best lines and most of the major emotional beats.” —Scott Mendelson, Forbes

“This is all a remarkable set-up for what is an undeniably exciting movie. I can’t lie and call it perfect, however. Some sections drag, and perhaps unavoidably, since Interstellar’s length is key to its essence. We are talking about a film that draws some of its strongest emotions out of time dilation and relativity—through one-way communications, our heroes watch the loved ones left behind age in what, to the space travelers, feels like a blink. These scenes are touching, but the movie has a rambling quality that is hard to shake.” —Jordan Hoffman, Popular Mechanics

“Nolan has built himself a huge house here, stepping from room to room to talk about human loneliness, love, the survival instinct, quantum physics, relativity — all the big questions, in one blockbuster package. If the philosophy ever has a whiff of cod, it’s very good cod.” —Tim Robey, The Telegraph

“That’s not to say the last half-hour of the film will be easy for every audience. And it’s not to say that ‘getting it’ has anything to do with liking it. I think Nolan makes a misstep here in the story he’s telling, and a sizable one, but he does it because of the emotional journey he’s setting up, and as a result, it pays off for me. Until now, Nolan’s never made me cry with one of his films, but in this movie, he managed to do it twice, and not just a little bit. There’s a sequence about halfway into the movie that flattened me. It’s just brutally sad and honest and simple. And, yeah, when the film finally starts to wrap up, there’s a line delivered by a fairly big-name cameo that crushed me all over again. It feels like for Nolan, making that connect was more important here than worrying about a spinning top or making you wonder about the bodies in the display cases or, frankly, servicing the sequel needs of Warner Bros. Here, the punctuation mark feels like it’s about human connection, about faith in each other more than faith in the invisible. It is a deeply optimistic film, which is why it paints the negative in such broad strokes in the film’s first third.” —Drew McWeeny, HitFix

“That Nolan can do so much with such a grand canvas and studio money shows the extent to which he has managed to carve out a niche in the industry. Brainy and exciting at the same time, ‘Interstellar’ invalidates the need for mindless Hollywood product. No matter its shortcomings, the movie achieves an impressive balancing act. It turns the mysteries of the universe into a cinematic playground, but for every profound or visually arresting moment, it also encourages you to to think.” —Eric Kohn, Indiewire

“McConaughey eventually leaves Foy and Earth behind to scout out a new home for for the human race, but it’s their relationship that grounds the movie. As action-filled as Nolan’s films are, they can sometimes feel abstract, like symbolic sublimations of some offscreen mental trauma. So many of his characters get their motivation from some prior loss — the dead wives from Memento and Inception, the dead parents of Batman — that they then work through according to the game-like rules Nolan excels at, whether those rules are imposed by amnesia, consciousness, or a supervillain. But Foy is an actual character, not a cipher, and the relationship between her and McConaughey gives the film an emotional heft that Nolan’s other work sometimes lacks.” —Josh Dzieza, The Verge

“In that respect, ‘Interstellar’ may represent an apotheosis of sorts, as it illustrates the very best and the very worst of Nolan as a writer-director. On the plus side, there’s a stunning portrayal of how far-reaching space travel might work, a glimpse at an apocalyptic near-future that’s both brilliantly written (no year is mentioned, and we’re left to glean together important bits of information that zip by in conversation) and designed (the clothes, the cars, and the tech are almost entirely late-20th century), and a vision of robots like nothing I’ve ever seen in a movie. Weighing against that, without getting into spoilers, is a third act of staggering wrongheadedness, along with female characters whose intellect takes a back seat to their exploding emotionalism and rage. Nolan is, presumably, among a handful of filmmakers who gets to do whatever he wants with minimal studio intrusion, but the resolution of ‘Interstellar’ feels so inorganic and milquetoast that you’d swear it was concocted by a Glendale focus group.” —Alonso Duralde, The Wrap

“Co-written by Nolan (with his brother, Jonathan) and inspired by theoretical physicist Kip Thorne’s work on traversable wormholes, Interstellar only really gets going once it’s up in the air. A tribute – occasionally a remake – of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, it saves its beauty for the cosmos and its humanity for machines. The actors – even those of the calibre of McConaughey and Hathaway - are script-delivering modules, there to output exposition and process emotional data. The best lines, those that seem truly spontaneous and responsive, go to TARS, the crew’s AI assistant. In this world human beings are outdated software, bad code to be over-written.” —Henry Barnes, The Guardian

“And this brings us to ‘Interstellar,’ a movie filled with so much scientific jargon that it does a pretty good job hiding how absurd some of the movie can be. And that’s the thing: the scientific jargon is fascinating. But, it’s fascinating in a ‘this is cool to see play out with my own eyes thanks to the big budget this movie had’ than an ‘it will blow your mind!’ kind of way. Again, anyone who (a) went to high school or (b) has read a Neil deGrasse Tyson tweet will be able to follow along without having their ‘mind blown.’ Sure, Nolan plays around a lot with gravity’s effect on space and time, but, like ‘Inception,’ everything is explained. (There’s a lot of exposition in ‘Interstellar.’) And Nolan plays around with being advanced enough to have the ability to see time as a dimension, which is really no different that what Kurt Vonnegut touched upon in ‘Slaughterhouse-Five.’” —Mike Ryan, ScreenCrush

“For all its adventurous and far-seeing aspects, Interstellar remains rather too rooted in Earthly emotions and scientific reality to truly soar and venture into the unknown, the truly dangerous. Startling at times, it never confronts the terror of the infinite and nothingness, no matter how often the dialogue cites the spectre of a ‘ghost’ or how many times we hear Dylan Thomas’s ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night’ and its famous ‘Rage, rage against the dying of the light.’” —Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter

“You have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m sure. But don’t worry, you will. Because I think everyone who’s interested enough to have gotten this far in the review needs to see it, if only to decide what parts of Nolan’s vision they disagree with, and to appreciate the magnitude of that vision regardless. It was mostly shot in IMAX, and there are certainly more than a few scenes that are worth seeing in that large format as I did, but I wouldn’t say it’s absolutely necessary to do so. Interstellar itself is as big as a black hole, and it will suck you in; this movie did not feel three hours long.” —Chris Taylor, Mashable

Review Roundup: First Takes on Interstellar