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Can ‘Oppenheimer’ Bring Patriotism Back to the Big Screen?

by Amber Simmons

Which of the following movie quotes can get a film fan’s heart racing?

“I am Groot!”

“The game’s over, Dom … you lose.”

“Let’s go recruit some scientists.”

The first two quotes are from “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” (obviously) and “Fast X,” respectively. The third may not sound exciting, but every other element of the film in question has movie lovers panting in anticipation.

Director Christopher Nolan recalls the race to build the atomic bomb in “Oppenheimer,” hitting theaters July 21. Cillian Murphy plays physicist J Robert Oppenheimer, the man who helped end World War II and usher in the nuclear age.

The trailer suggests “Oppenheimer” rejects 21st century film tropes, starting with the subject matter. The drama has no IP connection, no beloved source material or tie-in like most summer releases.

Think “Barbie,” “Transformers: Rise of the Beasts,” “Blue Beetle” and “The Flash.”

This heady drama must slug it out with the movie equivalent of high-fructose corn syrup. And, chances are, it’ll do just fine according to box office predictions.

The cast is a who’s who of Hollywood (Murphy, Robert Downey, Jr., Matt Damon, Rami Malek, Florence Pugh, Casey Affleck, Gary Oldman, Kenneth Branagh and more). That isn’t the film’s appeal.

Nolan is the star, an uncommon director who delivers a new film every two to four years. Each arrives with all the pomp and circumstance Hollywood can muster.

And, for the most part, the films warrant that reception.

This time, though, Nolan looks to offer something more than just a splashy film project. He’s upending the modern blockbuster.

Let’s take the story itself, a period piece brimming with historical significance. Sounds like a box office dud on paper, at least without the name “Nolan” attached.

The director says the film’s key explosion (no spoiler alert here) came via practical effects, not CGI magic. That old-school approach is mirrored throughout the film, Nolan suggests, setting the visual palette apart from most modern spectacles.

The trailer praises both American ingenuity and the nuclear (no pun intended) family. The teaser mentions how the sequestered scientists had company while trying to beat the Nazis to the ultimate weapon.

“If we don’t let scientists bring their families, we’ll never get the best,” a voice says.

How … reactionary.

Plus, the film is dominated by men, another no-no in modern Hollywood. Is this another exercise in Patriarchy 101? Well, it’s history if that’s Nolan’s defense.

It may not stop woke scolds from slamming the story for its lack of diversity, as some foolishly attempted following the release of Nolan’s World War II epic “Dunkirk.”

Plus, we see a crush of American flags waving without a whiff of irony. A packed crowd roars, the revelers hoisting the tiny flags above their heads.

Nolan’s film will likely brim with complexity, akin to his previous features. The atomic age deserves nothing less.

“Oppenheimer” may be an Oscar favorite or a letdown, but it’ll strike a blow against much of what Hollywood represents in 2023.

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