Tenet is the latest film from director Christopher Nolan, which finally debuted at the tail end of the 2020 summer movie season; if one wants to say this summer has had a movie season because of the coronavirus pandemic. Tenet was heralded as Nolan’s grand epic, this year’s most anticipated film, the one that would salvage the summer movie season. Well, unfortunately, the film falls short of such aspirations.
This does not mean that Tenet is a disaster or a poorly made film. No, actually it is an ambitious film with high-end production values and the acting is generally good. The latter is due to the strength of the film’s lead John David Washington who is simply known as the Protagonist. The fact that Nolan could not be bothered to give the main character a name indicates one fo the problem with Tenet. The film is technically well crafted, but it lacks an emotional soul. This has been a flaw with some of Christopher Nolan’s other films, but in this instance, the issue overtakes the film. It is difficult to care about what is going on in the film even though there are high stakes in its meandering plot.
Christopher Nolan’s new film is a spy thriller with an Inception-inspired sci-fi angle. The Protagonist is a CIA agent who is recruited to prevent a world war and is involved with nefarious arms dealers and a secret organization called Tenet. During his mission, the Protagonist learns of bullets and other objects that run backwards in time due to a process called “inversion,” which means that if he tries to fire a gun with inversion bullets, from his point of view the bullets are already fired and fly back into the barrel of the gun. He learns the bullets came from a Russian arms dealer called Sator (Kenneth Branagh) who is gathering intel from the future and wants to create a doomsday event using artifacts that are inverted in time. Along the way, the Protagonist travels throughout Europe and Asia and finds himself operating backwards in time; in many instances revisting scenes from earlier in the film from a new viewpoint.
If this sounds confusing, you are not alone. Nolan is so enamored with having scenes play backwards throughout the film and trying to be too smart for the film’s own good. The result is a film with a disjointed nature that only add to the convoluted nature of the film’s plot. You have to pay very special attention to the film and frankly, watching Tenet several times is necessary in order to fully grasp it. The problem here is that the film is not engaging enough to make you want to bother watching it all over again (the film is nearly two and a half hours). The visuals are impressive and up to par with what Nolan has delivered in the past, but the inversion scenes quickly feel gimmicky. By the time, we get to the film’s climax, the entire viewing experience is just underwhelming and disappointing despite the film’s technical wizardry.
What makes matters worse is that the sound mixing is shockingly poor and leaves much of the dialogue difficult to hear. Most attempts to explain the convoluted and complex plot or how inversion works are garbled and spoken very quickly or too low from characters, which makes following the polt a chore. Unlike Inception where the process of entering people’s dreams was not important, Tenet demands a sound explanation of how inversion works in order to understand what is going on, but Tenet fails in this aspect.
Who knows? Maybe a third or fourth viewing of Tenet may improve it, but a film has to engage you from the initial watch to make you want to revisit it again. Tenet only calls for it just to watch the well-crafted visuals of inverted fights and car chases. But doing that will be easier and more rewarding when watching it at home instead of theaters. At least from your device or TV you can skip over the plodding and convoluted first half of the film and get right into the off-kilter action scenes.
Tenet sound like an interesting concept, but like you say its not exactly a film that really grabs your attention. I’m still a bit anxious about going to the cinema with the COVID situation and not sure if it’d be comfortable to watch a film wearing a mask. Perhaps I’ll give it a try soon, how did you find it?
It was unnerving to be honest and I do not think Tenet is worth going through that hassle to sit in a theater in this climate, especially since you have to watch it several times to fully grasp it. My recommendation is to wait for it to hot home media, although Nolan went through the trouble to film it in IMAX the scenes are not as breathtaking as with other films.
Yeah, I’ve heard a few people say Tenet isnt as visually striking a film as Nolan’s previous work. I guess its as I’ve been doing everything from home I’m still not all that comfortable travelling and being in a cinema just yet. When I feel a bit more comfortable I might give it a try later on at some point. Cheers 🙂
Being a complete spoiler-phobe and not wanting to know too much about Tenet I had to regretfully skim over your review but seems it mirrors a lot of what I hear – basically that this is far from Nolan’s best and perhaps overindulgent (and I am a big fan of Nolan’s films and one of the few that considers Interstellar to be his masterpiece). It’s been out in UK cinemas for a couple of weeks now but given what I’ve heard and not being comfortable in current circumstances I’ll definitely wait for the home video release for sure.
It’s going to get harder though with Wonder Woman 1984 and No Time to Die on the horizon…
Sorry, I forgot to put a spoiler warning, but the review barely talks about the plot and honestly it was a convoluted headache that would take up many, many pages to explain adequately…and I’m not sure I understood it.
But on a safety note, I don’t feel this film is worth the risk to head out to theaters (now if this was Avengers: Endgame that is another matter!) and there wasn’t anything especially dazzling just a series of location shots, which we can easily see in the James Bond films.
I’ll look forward to eventually seeing it but definitely happy to await the 4k blu-ray/VOD as I’ve heard similar things from a number of trusted reviewe sources (Starloggers included of course!) now.
I disagree with some of your comments. I really enjoyed the film and thought the visual effects during the climax to be amazing, especially since there was virtually no CGI. I also didn’t find the plot to be convoluted, though I did think it was trying to be a bit too smart for its own good. I didn’t struggle to follow the plot, and I’m really hoping that Nolan is open to making a sequel.
You are spot on with the sound mixing, though. When I was discussing the movie with my wife after seeing it, that was the biggest complaint we had. There were too many scenes where the dialogue was just too difficult to understand.
I’m really looking forward to watching it again on home media, especially since I’ll be able to turn on subtitles.
I’m glad that you enjoyed it. The film was not a complete bust for me it’s just that its negatives outweighed its merits.
With that said, I feel the film would prpbably be better appreciated with a second viewing; at least at home we can adjust the sound levels! 😀
Pingback: 33+ Tenet Reviews – a movie created that must be rewatched for clarity? – Movies, Movies, Movies