MOVIE THEATER REVIEW: “Tenet” stars John David Washington (BlacKkKlansman, Ballers [TV series]), Elizabeth Debicki (The Great Gatsby , Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2), Robert Pattinson (The Lighthouse, Twilight ), Kenneth Branagh (Dunkirk, Henry V ), Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Nocturnal Animals, Godzilla ), Dimple Kapadia (Fearless, Bobby), Himesh Patel (Yesterday, The Aeronauts), Clémence Poésy (In Bruges, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1), Martin Donovan (Big Little Lies [TV series], Inherent Vice), Yuri Kolokolnikov (Hunter Killer, The Transporter Refueled), and Michael Caine (The Dark Knight, Now You See Me). It is written and directed by Christopher Nolan (Inception, Interstellar). When the world is on the brink of destruction, our Protagonist (Washington) must find the supplier of an array of objects that have reverse entropy and stop him before his plans are fully realized.
“All I have for you is a word: Tenet.” If you thought Christopher Nolan loved sparing the audience with as little detail as possible in his stories, wait until you see his latest venture. As the quote somewhat ironically encapsulates, “Tenet” is a snappy, perplexing, and all-the-more vague journey of a man trying to stop World War III; however, it is not the nuclear holocaust we all thought it’d be. I’m a little late to the party with this review, and I get that. The movie opened in theaters last week (there was no way Nolan was going to let it go straight to streaming) and I was able to see it during its first weekend. Unfortunately, with my first viewing came some challenges. When I walked into the theater room, the film was already playing. For how long, I’m unsure, but I believed I had missed the first five minutes (seeing as how I was five minutes late to the theater [they typically play thirty minutes of trailers or so]). On top of that, the movie was so mind-boggling that I knew I had to see it again to lock down my thoughts. If only I knew it would take a few days to get back to the theater. Nevertheless, I am here, ready to give my thoughts on the most-anticipated feature of 2020 (as if there was much competition with dates being pushed back).
Like most people, I enjoy the films Christopher Nolan makes. His use of time and the exploration of it in his stories have always fascinated me, and there has hardly been a dull moment in watching his pictures. I made the conscious effort to avoid as many trailers as possible for “Tenet” because I wanted to be surprised; I wanted to see just how Nolan could manipulate time once again, and he does so in the most head-splitting way possible. If you thought “Inception” was a tough egg to crack (it really isn’t), you will never be prepared for this experience. The science behind reverse entropy is enough to make your head spin even with watching it a second time; the characters themselves stated a few times that it will never quite be fully understood. Because… well, it can’t. We as humans think of time in a chronological manner, and with “Tenet,” Nolan breaks all the rules; time is relative. While it is not essentially time travel that is showcased in this adventure, there is a dimension of it that is explored, and that alone is enough to warrant a recommendation. To me, “Tenet” has one of Nolan’s best visual story concepts. I love the science behind reverse entropy, and the scenes that entail it are flat-out astounding. Nolan and his team knocked it out of the park, providing sequences that have awesome stunt-work, beautiful practical effects, and spine-tingling moments that’ll stick with you after you leave the theater. The action is heavy and the music is loud (very loud). It’ll put you on the edge of your seat and your mouth with hang open, because at the end of the day, Nolan set out to capture a spectacle, and he succeeded.
The performances in “Tenet” are all-around solid. John David Washington steers the ship as the Protagonist, and while his character has little to no depth he manages to make him charming. Debicki, Pattinson, Branagh, and Kapadia fill in the frame for support (along with Taylor-Johnson), and all do a good job moving the story along. Some may find Branagh a bit over-the-top, but at least he made certain lines more believable than they would’ve been (the ole “if I can’t have her, nobody will” line). Really, it’s Debicki’s character who has the most development and drive in this, as she plays a woman who wants to leave her husband and be with her son. While that gave some stakes to our characters in this story, I will say that I didn’t care as much as I wanted to. Maybe because her son was mainly seen from afar, or the fact that this film spent more time developing its concept than its characters. “Tenet” isn’t the kind of movie to see for enriching characters. It’s a spy/espionage with a sprinkle of science fiction, so the meat is all in its mission. Whether or not you like those kind of films will decide how you like this movie (of course, there are other factors to weigh in as well). For me, I found myself a bit removed. While I enjoyed the concept, visual effects, and scope of the project, I couldn’t help but feel distant from the story overall. It’s the end of the world once again. How it’s ending is pretty interesting, but what about the characters who are trying to stop it? That’s where things are loose, and honestly, it is close to how removed the characters were in “Dunkirk.” Nolan sure does love event over character, so what you see is what you get.
On top of that, “Tenet” cuts corners. The first five minutes I thought I missed in my first viewing were actually the first three seconds… I sat there for almost an hour the first time I watched this movie with such confusion that I didn’t know what to do. I panicked. I thought to myself “am I an idiot for not understanding this?” Hardly any of it made sense. I kept checking my watch to see when it would end, and it took until almost the halfway point, where the Protagonist was springing into action and reverse entropy really came into the foreground, that I became invested. What I came to realize in my second viewing (and subsequent read of the entire synopsis on IMDb for clarification) was that all the set-up we get for Protagonist’s mission is so bare-bones and snappy that it briskly moves along while you hang on for dear life. There’s no scene where the Protagonist receives an assignment; he isn’t told where to go, who to meet, or what to do (besides “stop this coming war”). All we are given is that quote I started this review with. And the fact that people talk fast and the music is louder than what they are saying doesn’t help either (even in my second watch I had to strain my brain muscles to hear everything they were saying). To me, it’s as if Nolan had a three hour film, but cut it to two and a half to please the producers. The first act is a complete wash, and doesn’t feel like it hits its stride until our characters get to the airport.
The best way to describe the film is an awesome story concept that revels in its vagueness. You don’t get close to the characters, you don’t completely understand the system of reverse entropy, and you most likely won’t understand everything everyone is saying (whether because of its concept or diffulty of hearing). It’s a great Nolan effort that boasts amazing visuals, solid performances, and a killer score, but the fact that I didn’t care about the characters and the first act is flimsy leaves me wanting more out of it. “Tenet” is a roller coaster that will excite, intrigue, and confuse. With multiple watches, audiences will discover little details that will make them respect Nolan all the more as both a directer and writer. But because he chose to focus solely on the mission and keep me distant from the characters, I can’t help but say it’s not his best. FINAL SCORE: 86%= Juicy Popcorn
Here is the trailer: