Seeing Inception for the second time, the line that keeps coming back to me is the one that caps the trailer, where Tom Hardy admonishes Joseph Gorden-Levitt and tells him "One mustn't be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling" before whipping out a rocket launcher. As great as much of Inception is, how I wish that Chris Nolan hadn't been afraid to really explore the nature of dreaming for more than just superior action sequences and overly-complicated heist-film plot mechanics. There is a fantastic documentary on the Blu Ray set, arguably the only feature in the slim supplemental package worth a damn, that deals with the science and speculation of dreams and how they work. Watching this before viewing the second viewing of said feature, one realizes how Nolan barely scratched the surface of the rich storytelling possibilities that the dream world has to offer. It may not be fair to criticize Inception for not being the definitive action-thriller about the dreamworld, but one cannot deny that the dreamworld envisioned by Chris Nolan (car chases, gunfights, explosions!) lacks a certain amount of imagination.
Ironically, Inception suffers (just a bit) from the same problem as (the still very intelligent and entertaining) The Social Network. Neither is really about its subject matter so much as it uses its alleged gimmick to create relevance and alleged profoundity for a somewhat generic narrative. The Social Network, as Aaron Sorkin has admitted, isn't really about the creation of Facebook so much as it's a generic 'tale of invention' story. Had said film been about the inventor of a popular cooking device, the film would have played pretty much the same. Inception isn't really about dreams, so much as it uses the idea of entering the subconscious to prettify a pretty generic caper picture. The film would have played pretty much the same had the film taken place inside a giant video game, which of course is how it feels for much of the second and third acts anyway.
On its own merits, Inception remains a top-notch piece of genre entertainment. The technical and special effects work is all splendid and every actor is at the top of his or her game. The writing and plotting are intelligent and engaging, and the film actually more or less makes perfect sense if you're paying even a token amount of attention. Most filmmakers would distinguish themselves by making a film as good as Inception. But that's the trap of being as accomplished as Christopher Nolan. When you're arguably the best director currently working in big-budget Hollywood, you mustn't be afraid to dream just a little bigger.