I was going to lump this movie in with the rest for the April midpoint movie roundup in a few days, but given the hype around this film and also the fact that the midpoint list is very long, I’ve chosen to take this one on its own. Spoilers ahoy!
Tenet (2020) is an over-baked action espionage thriller from director and writer Chris Nolan which revolves around the central premise that objects and people can come and go from and within a reversed flow of time via ‘inversion’ machines which look like those awkward revolving doors at airport entrances. It is perhaps the height of Nolan’s arrogance to present the viewer with such a complex and audacious tale. It makes the likes of what came before it – Memento, Inception and Interstellar – look like a child’s bedtime story.
I’m usually able to follow complex of sci-fi films but this really takes the biscuit for complexity and frankly I gave up after about an hour and just shrugged and thought ‘I’m sure it all works, so I’ll just enjoy the spectacle’. I can understand why it got mixed reviews, but I kinda like it – a lot more than Nolan’s last couple of films – Dunkirk and Interstellar. As long as I avoid picking at the edges too much.
Apart from the ludicrous complexity, my main gripe about this film is something Nolan has done before with Tom Hardy’s Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. The dialogue is often impossible to hear clearly underneath Ludwig Göransson’s (yeah the guy that did Mandalorian‘s music) banging score (which on its own I would quite like). We turned the subtitles on right from the get go and left them on. Not that they helped explain the timey-wimey wibbly-wobbly contrivances. When the main characters in the film are telling each other just to go with it and not worry about the science, but then planning ‘temporal pincer movements’ then you know to just let it happen and perhaps plan a re-watch sometime.
John David Washington is okay as the lazily-named Bourne-esque Protagonist, Robert Pattinson is very good as his edgy sidekick Neil and it was nice to see a bearded Aaron Taylor-Johnson as a helpful soldier Ives. I thought Taylor-Johnson was great in Kick-Ass and was sad to see his character Pietro Maximoff recast in Wandavision. Not so great is Elizabeth Debicki who seemed to be reprising her role from The Night Manager and Kenneth Branagh who was largely unconvincing as the cleverly-named but two-dimensional Russian bad guy Sator.
What I did like about the film was the choice of locations (it’s perhaps the only way I’ll get to see Oslo any time soon) and the balls-out approach to the spectacular special effects. It made me miss the linear storytelling of Nolan’s Batman trilogy and made me think that he would be an excellent choice to direct a Bond film – but only if EON Productions make him sign some kind of contract expressly forbidding him to mess about with the timeline.
I will be happy to re-watch this movie to try and make more sense of it. The bit where they are travelling on an inverted service vessel to the windfarm with masks on – a silly point about inverted air – was the most confusing to me since in the preceding scene the Protagonist is having a chat with someone without the need for a mask, and of course the car chase and the end battle are bloody confusing.
The only thing I really understood in the final battle was the fate of Neil thanks to Nolan ‘labelling’ the character with a distinctive item hanging out of his backpack. It’s not the first time Nolan’s heroes have had to make the ultimate sacrifice and Screenwriting 101 (which Nolan sticks to despite the way he presents the stories to us) will ensure it won’t be the last time.
Lots to enjoy – score, spectacle and sci-fi silliness. I hope that re-watching doesn’t spoil it for me, like a closer appraisal of Interstellar did.