Already so if you read my articles you know that while I like to speak conversationally and plainly, I still enjoy some nice structure. Categories to prove my points, lists of items, you get the idea. But we’re going to riff a little on this because I have a fair amount of thoughts that I’d like to just let flow and see where the writing takes me. I may not even spellcheck. Oh and if you haven’t seen the movie there will be NO MAJOR SPOILERS. I’ll give you some basic plot lines and some of the concepts you’ll find within the movie, but I won’t spoil the ending or anything like that.
Tenet is written and directed by Christopher Nolan. Nolan did the Batman trilogy with Christian Bale. They were great. Nolan did Inception, one of my favorite movies. Nolan did Interstellar. Again, amazing film. Inception and Interstellar were amazing movies because they made you think. Inception was all about dreams and both extracting information from them or implanting an idea into them. Interstellar was about using space exploration to solve a global crisis. It included a real thinker at the end of future beings (essentially humans in the future with the technology and knowledge to build a solution into time space, “simply put”) providing the final piece of a puzzle to save mankind. Again, movies that are thinkers.
Tenet was made to be another thinker of a movie. I suppose Nolan understood the success of Inception and Interstellar and felt like he had to create another thinker masterpiece. So, Tenet was marketed as exactly such. The previews were incredibly confusing, but seemed to be intentionally so. The whole point of the previews was to leave the viewer thinking “what on Earth is this movie even about? I’d better see it!” So those of us in that boat sat down, excited to watch another thinking masterpiece and…were left wanting.
The best way I can describe this film is that it tries way too hard to be a thinker. It tries to be confusing in hopes that at the end everything will blow your mind. But the reality is that it spends so much time confusing you that when you get to the movie you have more questions than answers.
So what’s this movie even about? Well as simply as I can put it we have a secret organization that is trying to stop world war 3. The organization is known by saying the word “tenet” and making a creepy looking two handed interlocking gesture. Super subtle. If you do/say that people know you’re cool and understand the secret organization stuff. That “stuff” is an understanding of a type of technology that reverses an object or person’s entropy. This means that it or they then starts to move backward in time. Bullets get sucked out of walls and back into guns. People, from a forward person’s perspective, weirdly move backwards in a forward world.
That concept is actually pretty cool. It leads to a villain that is gifted a bunch of this tech from someone in the future in order to wreak havoc on the world. Our secret organization seeks to use the knowledge and their own recovered tech and reverse entropy to stop it and save the world. I’m all for it. The problem with the film, and I guess inherently the writing, is that it just simply…misses the mark. Things go unexplained in the movie when they could be more simple. The visuals of the reverse entropy is awesome. There’s also a machine that you can essentially reverse your own entropy so that you then start moving backwards in the world. As with every concept of time travel you then can navigate your past, but this time it’s in reverse, adding a fun new element. There’s an awesome scene when a squad puts half it’s people in reverse and half in forward motion in order to accomplish a task. The visuals for that are amazing.
So let’s step away from the shortfalls for a second and look into some good that the movie has to offer. The acting is actually pretty good. The main character, who is called the Protagonist, is played by none other than Denzel Washington’s son, John David Washington. I thought he was great with the role he was given. Like his father, he spoke in a way that was suave and authoritative at the same time. He actually sounded just like Denzel to be honest. It blew my mind for most of the movie. He was believable in hand to hand combat, believable in his intelligence, and just had good delivery and overall just seems to be a great actor.
Playing opposite of Washington was Twilight’s own Robert Pattinson, playing the role of Neil, essentially the Protagonist’s sidekick. It’s hard to imagine him as anyone but Edward Cullen, or maybe even as Cedric Diggory in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, but Pattinson definitely delivers, and is kind of a great actor. He’s got that smooth and intelligent British spy vibe, and I thought he was great beside Washington. While the Protagonist is always serious, even when “joking,” Neil was a bit lighthearted and kept the movie from becoming too intense. Kudos to the young man.
Amazingly enough the villain is actually from Harry Potter as well, this time from The Chamber of Secrets. If you can believe it, Kenneth Branagh, aka Hogwarts’ own Gilderoy Lockhart, is actually a badass villain. To quote another Christopher Nolan movie, he’s kind of one of those guys that wants “to watch the world burn.” He was pretty hardcore and his kind of evil interactions with his wife really showed that. The wife, on the other hand, played by Elizabeth Debicki, was also a positive contributor. She is essentially stuck with her villain husband due to blackmail and you can definitely sense her anguish in plenty of scenes.
So I’d say the acting in this movie was actually very above average. There’s even a kind of random appearance from Aaron Taylor-Johnson who for some reason I really like. He’s quicksilver in the Avengers Age of Ultron, and Kickass in…Kickass. I always think he’s a solid addition to a movie as a supporting character.
Visual effects and filming were great. as well. I would love to be on a set like this and see how they filmed it so that part of the screen’s action is going in one direction and part is going the other. Seems like it must have included filming the same scenes multiple times and a lot of work from a very talented editing team. Explosions were realistic and not gratuitous, nothing looked overly drowned out by CGI, and the overall movie was visually pleasing. Another big win.
However at the end of the day, the confusion of the plot just leaves the movie underwhelming. Did it keep me interested? Yes. But it kept me interested in the way that any Fantasy or Sci-Fi movie does, not in the way a great movie does. Clearly there was a goal set with this movie, and clearly it doesn’t reach that goal.
Now I’m just one man though, and while the many people I’ve talked to agree with me completely, you may feel differently about it. So I do encourage you to give it a watch. I definitely want to watch it a second time after a few weeks or months with the knowledge I’ve already attained from watching it a first time.
Is Tenet the amazing thinker it was meant to be? Or is it just a fun Saturday evening rainy day kind of movie that is ultimately forgettable? In the end, that’s for you to decide.