To say Tenet has a lot of pressure is a huge understatement. Not only is it supposed to be Christopher Nolan’s magnum opus, but it also has the future of the film industry at stake. Every studio is looking at Tenet, waiting to see how to move forward with their own releases.
Anyways, if you haven’t noticed already, Christopher Nolan has a fascination with the concept of time. The likes of Memento, Inception, Interstellar, and The Dark Knight Rises (just kidding) all deal with the fluidity of the past, present, and future. See the final trailer for yourself starring Robert Pattinson and John David Washington (and how are people still discovering that Denzel’s son anyway)?!
His latest entry of Tenet not only re-explores this fascination in a new, refreshing way, but it also brings his film making to a new level. Unfortunately that focal point also has its fair share of flaws.
So without any further ado…let’s (spoiler-free) review the beautiful, confusing mess that is Tenet!
THE STORY of Tenet
The initial plot, as convoluted as it eventually gets, is fairly simple: a man is hired by a secret organization, Tenet, to stop World War III, using time manipulating technology known as “Inversion”.
The first act is somewhat easy to follow as the protagonist goes around amassing leads. Every character is properly established giving a good idea of the looming threat. Unfortunately, the first act feels long, jaded, and most importantly… boring. (Yeah, I said it.)
However, the second act is when the story really picks up.
Once there, the movie becomes an extremely complex narrative. If you get your eyes off the screen for even one second, you might miss some really important information. Also, this is definitely Christopher Nolan’s best third act to date.
There are countless twists to keep you planted on the edge of your seat. And with each and every question you have throughout the film, Tenet gives a satisfying answer. Most importantly, it gave an ending worthy of discussion (either that, or it’s bait for a sequel).
There is one thing I can’t stress enough: Tenet is a technical marvel. Similarly to another Nolan film, Memento, every shot in this movie has been carefully edited to serve a specific purpose. Had one scene been misplaced in this movie, the entire thing would’ve fallen apart.
The inversion moments were especially impressive. They required extra attention and are seamlessly blended in with the normal moments to create a unique (but somewhat confusing, to be honest) experience. The third act was especially impressive. It could have easily been a mess. Christopher Nolan once again proves he really knows what he’s doing behind the camera.
Also, I have to mention Ludwig Göransson’s score (Creed, Mandalorian, Black Panther). Unfortunately, this is not his best work. His score on The Mandalorian is far more memorable. Even worse, it is not as good as frequent Hans Zimmer’s work on The Dark Knight trilogy or even Inception.
However, Göransson’s score still gets the job done and effectively enhances each scene. Also, I’m not a huge fan of Travis Scott, but I genuinely enjoyed “The Plan” on the soundtrack side of things. It’s not just another hip-hop song accompanying a Blockbuster movie. It surprisingly fits with the tone and themes of the film.
THE ACTION SEQUENCES
Without getting into spoiler territory, these are some of the most well-crafted and detail-oriented action sequences to ever be put in a Christopher Nolan film.
I can say that, without a doubt. The action in Tenet far surpasses The Dark Knight trilogy. While impressive, the action in those movies were somewhat lacking, opting for realism rather than spectacle.
A lot of the choreographies don’t necessarily feel, well…choreographed. Nolan still has his signature realism in Tenet, but this time he goes for the more spectacle side of things. He also incorporates inversions in a lot of the fighting. Everything becomes more impressive when you realize that there is little to no CGI in this movie.
Action has never been Christopher Nolan’s strong suit, but you can see him incorporate the lessons he’s learned throughout his career in Tenet.
This will probably be the most controversial aspect of this review: John David Washington’s performance was… alright. He’s given what you would expect from a Christopher Nolan film: dark, broody, monotone monologues.
Washington plays that role perfectly. However, Nolan tried to add more humor to his dialogue this time around, having the protagonist throw a few quips ala Joss Whedon throughout the film.
Washington’s delivery of those lines never really lands. You’re often left wondering if that was supposed to be a joke or something genuine (which is strange considering his previous film appearance). But if there’s something I had absolutely no problem with, is the action sequences involving him. The man clearly knows how to fight.
Robert Pattinson delivered a great performance as Neil.
Easily the most nuanced character in the film, Pattinson’s performance never feels jaded. Just like Washington, Pattinson has his fair share of jokes and he knows how to strike a balance between humor and seriousness. He is always lively but knows when to take things seriously. You can tell by his mannerisms alone that his character has a long history.
From what I’ve seen, Neil is already the subject of numerous fan theories. Just like Washington, Pattinson delivers some impressive action scenes throughout the film, a fact that should make all of us extremely happy.
Unfortunately, there is not much I can say about Elizabeth Debicki’s performance without getting into spoiler territory, but I will say this: despite having a somewhat cliched (and a little outdated) storyline, Debicki manages to convincingly portray a character who clearly has a lot of weight on her shoulders.
Tenet has his fair share of flaws, but at the end of the day, none of them really have any major impact on my enjoyment of the film. Is it a drag to get through the first act? Yes. Does it try too hard to be convoluted at times? Well, maybe, but none of that really mattered.
At the end of the day, it is not only a technical achievement, but it is a superb action film with great performances. Somehow Nolan always finds a way to explore the same themes in an entertaining matter. It is definitely Nolan’s biggest and most ambitious film to date, but definitely not his best.