It is the last week of August, and Hollywood has finally delivered 2020’s first apparent blockbuster movie. Smashing into theatres this weekend is TENET, Christopher Nolan’s $205 million big-budget action drama. Nolan refused to cave and stream this movie; he also refused to delay the film. Most other summer blockbuster movies were delayed half a year to a year. It makes sense now, this was a movie he argued you had to see with a big screen and big sound, and I understand his point of view.
The reality is, if TENET were going up against all the other blockbuster movies, it would get crushed at the box office. However, with little out in the way of competition and with it playing on most movie screens, Nolan has lucked out. TENET with all its shortcomings, and there are plenty should do well at the box office regardless of its mediocrity. What exactly is TENET? The trailers provide extraordinarily little detail for what the movie is about. At its core TENET is a James Bond or Mission Impossible movie, with a twist, the villain and heroes can travel backward in time to try and achieve their goals; take note that is backward, not back in time. The concept would be like rewinding time, so everything is going backward, but you are going forward; made possible by devices and concepts, Nolan takes little time to explain. Instead, Nolan tells the viewers not to try to understand it and to go with it. It is easy to see that he wants TENET to be the film for the 2020s what the Matrix was for moviegoers in the 2000’s. Sadly it is not. There have been multiple films over the years that dealt with the concept of time displacement. Most of those films tried to explain their time concepts, whether you agreed with their point of view or not. Nolan should have taken the extra time he had to work on this movie and explained the entire concept better.
Dialogue I would argue is more important in this film than in others since the protagonist, like the moviegoer, has no idea what is going on. The problem is the sound effects and music is unnecessarily loud and obscure that on more than one occasion, the viewer cannot hear much of what the characters are trying to say to each other. I genuinely wonder if Nolan did this on purpose, so we are forced to go with it, and will then not be able to try and understand it. The main character is played by John David Washington, speaking from an acting point of view, he is trying too hard to be like his father; maybe he feels like he has big shoes to fill. No doubt he does, but his acting was very underwhelming in this film. Kenneth Branagh, one of the most diverse actors of our time, plays the villain. Although I enjoyed his character portrayal of Andrei Sator (a rich, dying man who cannot be saved and wants to end the world when he dies), it certainly wasn’t his finest acting; he tried to be menacing he just wasn’t. This movie is meant to be dark, but if it were restricted, Nolan would have limited his viewer base, and it would have cost him at the box office. So, where extreme violence was needed, the viewers are left with the idea of what could have been—all in the name of a PG rating. The audience is ultimately left with a movie for teenagers, who will not try and understand it and just say it was cool; this movie could have been so much more.
Where the movie strikes, gold is the cinematography, and although Nolan has done much of this before, his attempt to film things in real-time going backward was neat. Every shot was like a piece of art. If you must see the movie in theatres, just know it is loud, and generally, a mess of concepts the director fails to explain; the story has been done over and over throughout the years, save the girl, save the world. This movie would be better enjoyed at home where you have control of the sound and the ability to rewind and question in an instant what you just saw. Nolan does not want this, because then all of the flaws, or concepts that make no sense become apparent.
2.5/4 – stunning visuals, weak everything else