There is a big problem with this movie, and no, it’s not the fact that it was among the many victims of COVID-19 that resulted in it not getting the grand opening it hoped for. The big problem with Tenet is that it’s a huge gimmick movie that likes to trick people into thinking it’s so smart by throwing in these philosophical rambles, when in truth, it’s all an excuse to throw in all these flashy lights and sounds claiming it’s the best thing since the rolling rock that chased Indiana Jones. But with or without the pandemic’s interference, this newest effort by Christopher Nolan will just sink out of public notice in time.
The first issue is in the unlikable characters, who all feel intentionally written without personalities; not a single one changes by the end, for better or worse, they just spend the whole time spitting out boring exposition as the music blares over their sentences. Really though, what they say is so boring to listen to that the film might as well be muted. Though that’s not the only reason why this is better off muted, it’s more because every sound, including dialogue, and especially the gunfire, is way too loud—I needed to cover my ears for a lot of it! If you are going to watch this, just watch this at home where you can at least control the volume.
Yet even when watching at home, the experience will feel way too familiar to be very enjoyable. Right from the opening scene, it all seems overly similar to the stadium scene in The Dark Knight Rises, it’s set during a heist at an opera house, which immediately kicks off with gunfire, and in turn removes all distinction from this and other heist or action films. From there, nobody watching will care about whatever little story exists, because it doesn’t understand the things that are actually threatening the potential for WWIII, in the same way the God’s Not Dead trilogy doesn’t understand why non-Christians don’t like the idea of Christianity.
If you want an idea for how lazily thought out these characterizations are, the protagonist is so passive in his motive that his name is literally “Protagonist.” He has a friendship that carries on throughout the film, but there’s no substance to it anyway, since there’s no restrictions or limitations on what they can do together. They engage in a chase on a freeway, and there’s no cops or people trying to guide other drivers out to safety! If that’s not realistic, the friendship surely can’t be either. This protagonist also doesn’t have enough personal tension with the antagonist or his wife, not anywhere near as compelling as Daniel Day-Lewis saying, “I… drink… your… MILKSHAKE!” In fact, it tries to be that compelling, but fails horrendously. There’s both underacting and overacting at play here; underacting like they’re tired of being stuck in their homes, and overacting like they’re going insane for the restrictions of a Coronavirus-filled world.
But there are some significant achievements worth noting; you sense how time getting more crunched and urgent presses so much on the characters, their skin tones look less pronounced as the film goes on, even though time seems to go out of control. The red and blue lights set up police lights imagery to make you feel frustration as the music plays in reverse to compliment what you see. It can’t change the fact though that this movie is rushed in its editing, even when clocking in at two-and-a-half hours long. It’s a miraculous achievement for your movie to feel long yet rushed at the same time, and Christopher Nolan somehow did it. But don’t be fooled: that’s not an achievement to be proud of.
What is something to be proud of though is the incredible fight sequences where the protagonist fights a man through this time-manipulation technique they call “inversion,” which is basically just making things move backwards. It’s amazing to see how fluidly it switches between backwards and forwards motions within a single scene, or even a single shot, like something out of The Matrix, but cooler. It gets better though, some effects will even have someone talking forwards, yet their body language is moving in reverse! You just have to wonder how on earth it’s done, knowing how sparingly Nolan uses CGI. These inversion effects carried on into the sets, which can only lead to lots of awestruck wonder at how difficult this must have been on the set designers while choreographing these inversion effects. Heck, even when things are all moving forward on the screen, there’s so much to take in from the production backstories you could potentially imagine with various scenes, just look at what they do with an airplane and a car on a freeway!
It makes this whole filmmaking process something like in Sister Act: replacing boring, awful traditional church music with hip, passionate modern music, taking what is now dated up to the next level to be better than it was. Christopher Nolan achieves that with these remarkable action sequences that put all other big expensive movies in their place. People aren’t wowed by CGI anymore, they need someone who can think smarter, not harder, with these effects to achieve something never seen before.
If only Nolan could do that with a script and artistic approach that we haven’t seen many times already.
I think that 2020 has proved to us now more than ever that time is a precious thing which we cannot take lightly, one second we’re ahead in the chariot race, the next, one of our spokes has been damaged by the competitor, and we’re landed on the dust, most likely dead. It just takes a second to change your life. There’s nothing about Tenet that will change your life, so take this second to decide not to bother giving this a watch. You have that freedom to choose—take advantage of it!
If there is a specific movie you’d like to see graded, or if you are interested in guest blogging for my site, please email me at Trevor@TrevorsViewOnHollywood.com for your recommendations.
Have a great weekend, and happy watching!