It’s typically a pleasure to head towards a theater to watch a Christopher Nolan film, and with Tenet that was somewhat true. This was my first film back after the whole COVID-19 pandemic situation, and it was nice to be back. I do however wish this was up to the standards that I’m used to. It really seems like Nolan was a bit full of himself with this and that shows. This is a time bending journey that goes forward while also going backwards at the same time.
A concept that I won’t dive into beyond that since I don’t want to spoil things. Outside of the playing with reality, it’s a very straight forward sort of spy movie. You get the very charismatic pairing of The Protagonist (John David Washington) and Neil (Robert Pattinson) with the former’s character name being way too on the nose. Anyways, these two were very suave and a delight to see in action together. They performed some great action sequences, and really nailed the spy aspect of their work.
I just wish that the surrounding experience was more interesting. They’re up against the man of future knowledge Andrei (Kenneth Branagh) who is a fairly typical villain. This one definitely might seem confusing to some, but they make it too easy to follow. The scenes are more interesting during the big shift, but this one was too predictable. I actually had someone essentially give a spoil of the entire thing by watching the trailer a single time and guessing what was going to happen.
I didn’t think it would be that straight forward when watching, but their guess was one hundred percent correct. It’s as though notes were taken from past Nolan films in regards to the ambiguity and there’s none of that here. It very much lets you know exactly what’s going on the whole way through, which sort of makes this forgettable to a degree. It was fun to watch, just won’t have the same lasting effect at other Nolan films have had over the years.
The performances here were generally excellent from all involved. There just wasn’t much depth to the characters. There was also some stilted dialogue too, with one line sticking out that I don’t think is too spoilerish. It was basically about everyone in the world dying if they failed and Kat (Elizabeth Debicki) asked, “including my son?” which was a very stick out line to me. It was just at times sort of disjointed narrative and dialogue wise.
It’s a very neatly shot film though, and you’ll only see that realized once you get to a certain point within the film which sort of creates a situation where you might want to watch it again. That makes this very clever in terms of how it was shot, yet at the same time not clever enough in terms of the substance to this movie. I also felt there was something a tad off about the editing. The pacing, or something felt off for a Nolan film.
Moving past that, I also wasn’t too thrilled by the big action set piece that showed up later on. There was one with a massive plane that was awesome, but another super generic sort of battle at the end. It looked cool, until you got into it where it didn’t seem like there was any conflict actually happening. It was just of just mindless explosions for no reason and an opposing army that’s never explained. They don’t even appear to be battling the heroic forces at any point, and this whole area seemed like such a waste. I’m actually kind of mad that I have no context or idea who those soldiers were, super weird.
Tenet wasn’t Nolan’s best effort, presenting a fairly generic spy thriller while forgetting to develop the characters and showing us far too much of what had happened. There was no sense of mystery, or reason to even think about the film afterwards. Everything was perfectly tied up and severely in your face.
You might however be wondering who was fighting who or what even happened in the ending battle set piece since that was essentially nonsense. The performances were the strength of this film, Washington and Pattinson were both great to watch in action. It seemed like they were serious, while also having a lot of fun with it.
The close quarters combat was engaging, and this was shot generally well. It has that sort of Nolan style you’re used to, but not at the height of quality you’re likely used to. It was a solid film, but definitely disappointing as I had expected so much more and this had the potential to be so much more considering the concept at play.
Tenet Review at Theater with Standard Viewing