This week marks the release of Christopher Nolan’s Inception, easily the most anticipated release of the summer due to the director’s pedigree, a stellar cast, and an enigmatic aura.  Months of hype culminate in a wide theatrical/IMAX release thankfully lacking 3D, and almost entirely a secret — a rarity given the scope of the project and the insatiable curiosity in our digital age.

You have to hand it to Warner Bros, though.  They managed to take a convoluted concept and twist it into a savvy marketing campaign that kept fans guessing and, more importantly, wanting more.  A viral website offered puzzles and poster reveals, mysterious trailers pounded audiences with ominous bass notes and wild imagery, and interviews offered little more than winks and nudges at story details.  Plus, you can’t help but get the feeling that the reviews themselves were orchestrated, poking holes in a dam of positivity rather than letting the love flood out all at once.

West Coast critics saw the film last week and showered the Internet with rave reviews, and by this evening another wave of opinions will be unleashed onto the Web (including mine).  Before that happens, I thought we could take a (spoiler free) look at what critics are saying about Nolan’s latest.  If you’d rather not, at least skip to the bottom for the awesome ads:

Kirk Honeycutt of The Hollywood Reporter started by calling the film “easily the most original movie idea in ages,” lauding the “repackaging” of conventional action sequences into a science fiction concept “across multiple levels of reality.”  Honeycutt wrote, “Nolan has outdone himself,” an exciting declaration about the filmmaker behind The Dark Knight, the tricky film The Prestige, and the brilliant Memento.

Justin Chang of Variety praised Nolan as “surely one of Hollywood’s most inventive dreamers” and the film’s use of “mind-bending visual effects and a top-flight cast in service of a boldly cerebral vision that demands, and rewards, the utmost attention.”

Anne Thompson of IndieWire dubs it a “Kubrickian masterpiece” in her title and considers it a strong contender for multiple Oscar nominations, including Best Picture.

Nev Pierce with Empire Magazine gave it five stars, but says it’s “not half as bloody clever as it thinks it is.”  But he reassures fans by later adding, “The muscular action that distinguished his Bruce Wayne pictures is again in evidence” except without psychics, of course.

Todd Gilchrist at Cinematical says it’s “a stunning achievement,” but says more about the “amazing” performances.  Leonardo DiCaprio gives “some of the most heartbreaking and affecting moments of his entire career,” Gilchrist wrote, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Tom Hardy deliver “star-making turn[s].”

Dustin Hucks at Film School Rejects calls it “close to perfection” and gives it a rare A+.

Mr. Beaks over at Ain’t It Cool News offers an eloquent opinion that ends with “Pure cinema at its best feels like dreaming with your eyes wide open. Cinema doesn’t get much purer than Inception.”

Inception-Arthur-only-one-awake

But the lovefest ended Sunday when David Edelstein of NY Magazine, one of RottenTomatoes’ “Top Critics,” registered the first negative review.  It’s sure to draw ire from Nolan fanatics in the coming days, especially for his criticism of the visionary director, who he says “thinks like a mechanical engineer.”  He wrote, “Nolan is too literal-minded, too caught up in ticktock logistics, to make a great, untethered dream movie.”  Edelstein even ends with a disclaimer, fully aware of his naysayer status.  “I wanted to surrender to this dream; I didn’t want to be out in the cold, alone. But I truly have no idea what so many people are raving about.”

As of this writing, Inception carries a 95% on RottenTomatoes with 20 reviews.

These awesome building-sized advertisements are up in New York City, and the last is a banner positioned on a Parisian hotel.  Take a look, courtesy of flickcast (click to enlarge):