Released on Sept. 3, Tenet follows a secret agent on a mission for the survival of the world which involves a time-bending chemical radiation. The newest film from acclaimed director Christopher Nolan stars John David Washington as the unnamed Protagonist and has Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, and Kenneth Branagh as the supporting cast.
I’ve never been a fan of Nolan, but while I consider Memento his only great movie, I can’t say he has ever made a particularly bad movie. Tenet is surprising because it is both a film I completely admire, but absolutely do not enjoy. Recent years, specifically 2014’s Interstellar, has seen Nolan take a scientific concept that he likes and use a film to study that concept. Tenet essentially strips itself of an emotional narrative, and utilizes its timeline and visuals as a playground for Nolan to explore Inversion, the previously mentioned, time-bending chemical radiation that causes an object or person to move backwards in time while the present goes forward. Not sure if it’s a real physics concept or not, but the way it is used in terms of visuals and narrative threads is undeniably masterful. The action scenes were incredibly engaging, and some of the best of Nolan’s career. I can’t even imagine how much effort went into choreographing them, especially because multiple of them are shown from multiple points of view (along with the Inversion effects integrated!). Narratively, it is not the ginormous complex puzzle that it was hyped up to be, but threads were cleverly pulled together in a way that’s especially appreciated on rewatch. That’s where my problems come in; the thorough exploration of Inversion is at the sacrifice of any ounce of emotional depth. Nolan attempts an abuse storyline involving Debicki, but it felt blatantly half-hearted because he so obviously wants to focus on Inversion, and, again, while it’s explored in an undeniably masterful way, the vast study of Inversion itself just bored me anyways. He has a formula, action scene then exposition, but that’s just it, the concept quickly becomes tiresome. The enthusiasm of others is completely understandable, but without investment in comprehending this assumedly fictional concept, the trudge through the paper-thin narrative itself is unbearably dull (Never thought I’d call a movie both shallow and substantive). The protagonist is literally only referred to as the protagonist; these aren’t characters, they are vessels, and while that is exactly what they were intended to be, I can’t say I particularly enjoyed them or much else about this movie.
With masterfully crafted action scenes and a complex timeline, Nolan fans will have both fun and something to analyze with Tenet, but without any form of an emotional narrative, I doubt audiences will be entertained. Without investment in a fictional form of time-travel, Tenet just comes off as another boring, convoluted spy thriller. I’d recommend not risking a virus to see this in theaters. I’m giving Tenet a 5/10.