Published: 16th October 2023
We just had to do a KidRated review of “Barbenheimer” because the word actually has its own Wikipedia entry! Who would have thought the simultaneous release of two films in the summer of 2023 would become such a cultural event.
But the glaring extremes of Greta Gerwig’s fantasy comedy and Christopher Nolan’s epic biography not only led to the portmanteau word of our times but also prompted a deluge of responses from commentators, movie goers and Internet users.
Now the dust has settled the question remains were the films any good? Well getting kids to rate things is our thing so we invited 16 year old Seb to share his thoughts. He’s not just a movie lover he’s cinema junkie – check out his other reviews here and here – so he was more than up to the task. Seb, the floor is yours…
On the surface, Barbie and Oppenheimer seem to be two very different films, so it’s very unusual that such a double feature event became such a huge internet phenomenon. The films ended up with the same release date, presumably because Warner Bros. had bad blood with Oppenheimer director Christopher Nolan.
Nolan had left Warner midway through production because they give him the budget for the expensive practical effects he wanted. So, when Universal (who ended up working with Nolan) set the film’s release date, Warner Bros. slyly hit back by setting Barbie’s release date on the same day.
Humorously, due to the films’ contrasting tones and identical release, people who were interested in one film quickly became interested in the other, increasing both of the films’ publicity machines, as well as cast/crews to encourage a double viewing. Thus “Barbenheimer”was born and like many other, I decided to participateand saw both films on the day of release.
What follows are my (SPOILER LADEN) reviews plus my thoughts on how how these two films were not as dissimilar as one might think. Please note that my biggest challenge in what follows was the fact the names of the movies were also the names of the main characters.
Let’s start with Oppenheimer. Ok, this is an intense film. A 3-hour beast with dozens of important characters, 2 overlapping timelines (with flashbacks in each) and a deadly serious tone; it may seem, from the outside, unapproachable and disengaging. However, Nolan crafts an engaging and insightful biopic, in spite of its complex, pessimistic perspective.
The film is a technical marvel, with legitimately jaw-dropping cinematography that foreshadows what’s to come, and impeccable sound and music that gives weight to every scene and internal monologue. The visuals and audio works in tandem to become a lens in which the audience sees Oppenheimer’s thoughts, feelings and experiences at any given moment, without obscuring the actual events taking place (at least, in his timeline.
In the two timelines – one follows Oppenheimer’s life, starting from his interest in physics at school and ending with how he is changed by both the bomb and inter-governmental politics. The other follows Strauss’s perspective of Oppenheimer and the creation of nuclear weapons
Intercutting between these timelines can be confusing to follow, and needs to be understood by following the characters and settings involved, even if it’s nearly impossible to catch everything. The film flows smoothly throughout the runtime and incredible editing with well-written script helps, but it’s still quite a lot to cope with.
An A-list cast includes Cillian Murphy, Florence Pugh, Robert Downey Jr., Matt Damon and Emily Blunt, who all do excellent jobs bringing their characters. However, there are just too many important characters (50!!) to follow and having to remember everyone gets really difficult.
The film’s arc follows Robert Oppenheimer’s journey from optimistic, open-minded intellectual to cynical, horrified pessimist as he realises it has not only obliterated the lives of innocent people but is now in the hands of a government who can do so again whenever they choose.
There are numerous dark messages about politics, community and innovation throughout and Nolan crafts a haunting piece about the cost of innovation and how it impacts people who are most affected by war ending with the statement: “no matter the intent of innovation, the people in power will use it however they like, torture the innovator for thinking differently, only to congratulate those who succeed”.
The bomb and its legacy resonate well after we see it explode and is nicely tied to the structure, emotional pangs and the film’s themes. So the audience are constantly on their toes. Not knowing how and if the ‘boom’ will reappear creates a deeply impactful experience that also acts as a cautionary tale about innovation, politics and war.
Verdict: For older kids and late teens – Oppenheimer is intense film, but well worth watching.
And so to my (SPOILER LADEN) review of Barbie…
To me, a live action film about an iconic toy doll sounds like a very bad idea. However, director Greta Gerwig uses this cheesy premise to not only mine comedy gold but also to deliver some powerful social commentary.
When we’re introduced to “Barbieland”, it feels both real and surreal like an extreme comedy skit come to life. Everything is plastic and a shade of pink. But this fake realness is not only surprisingly engaging, it also allows for some hilarious jokes. Some, meta, some in the guise of dramatic irony, and some as “Easter Eggs”. While not all made me “laugh out loud”, I smiled a lot and a few times found myself gasping for air.
The cast does an excellent job bringing all the characters to life and although Margot Robbie is great job in the main role, it’s really Ryan Gosling, America Ferrara, Kate McKinnon and Michael Cera who steal the show as Ken, Gloria, Weird Barbie and Allan, respectively.
Once the film leaves “Barbieland” and moves to the real world, what follows is a fish-out-of-water story, with a surprisingly strong hook, as Barbie discovers the complexities of real life. Combining these two tones isn’t always successful though and while the emotional drama and wacky comedy never bring each other down, they don’t really support each other either – so both ideas get a bit diluted.
When Barbie finally hits it stride we’re more than halfway through the film so everything feels a little underwhelming, given the time that’s already been spent. I really think the film would have been much better if it had taken both ideas and committed to being a musical because the most memorable moments are all songs – “Pink” (opening number), “Dance the Night” (dance break), “I’m Just Ken” (ballad) and “What Was I Made For?” (thematic song).
Also, despite the runtime being nearly 2 hours, the film feels like it’s in a rush, moving between scenes at breakneck speed when it could have been slower (and longer).
I also found some of the “humans” a bit shallow. They’re well acted, but would have been stronger as symbolic representations of different ideas rather than their own people. For example, Gloria and Sasha are more fleshed out when they represent the optimistic and pessimistic sides to feminism. When they’re just people, they’re just a bit two-dimensional.
Despite this though, the social commentary about feminism in a patriarchal society is really well-written and does a great job of holding Barbie together – especially in its weaker moments.
In conclusion Barbie is an ambitious project that doesn’t always work for me but when it’s good it’s really good and very funny. It even admirably addresses the codependent nature of the relationship between Barbie and Ken. And while I found it struggled with pace and imbalance I couldn’t fault the themes, the actors and the jokes, all of which do their best to keep the film a perfect shade of pink.
Verdict: It’s definitely a film that is much more accessible to all age groups and there’s something for everyone as it cleverly works on many levels for it’s wide, diverse audience
And finally to Barbenheimer…
If like me you’re going to do the Barbieheimer Double Bill – I would say the experience is ultimately an enjoyable one. The films’ tones balance each other perfectly with Barbie’s pessimistic-to-optimistic narrative reflected by Oppenheimer’s optimistic-to-pessimistic perspective.
Also both movies’ themes about women’s ability (or lack thereof) to impact their world also makes the films interesting to compare.
Verdict: For the best experience, I would recommend watching Oppenheimer first, followed by a short break (trust me you’ll need it), followed by Barbie.
Overall KidRating: 9/10
Click the picture below to check out Jack’s handy list of films older kids and teenagers should enjoy watching with their parents….