Tenet: Fun to Watch, Just Try Not to Pay Attention to It

We have our first major summer blockbuster of the year – in September, but such is cinema in the age of the pandemic. Tenet has all of the hallmarks of a summer blockbuster: impressive visuals, fantastic action and a bare bones story… A fun popcorn movie full of pretentions at intellectuality.

            Calling this movie’s plot bare bones is somewhat misleading. Christopher Nolan’s latest film somehow has both not enough plot and too much. The protagonist, played by John David Washington (BlacKkKlansman) is never given an actual name or background other than having been a CIA operative. Additionally, the time travel which serves as the film’s main gimmick is somehow both overexplained and underexplained. One character explicitly tells the protagonist, and by extension the audience, “don’t try to understand it.” At the same time, the plot is incredibly convoluted, reminiscent of Nolan’s Inception (2010) but less well-conveyed, with constant exposition dumps being given at often inopportune times while characters are otherwise occupied. A good example: characters yelling to each other on a speedboat when the audience barely understand them.

            This brings up the only technical aspect that doesn’t really work, the sound design. Everything else – the settings, wardrobe, action choreography, effects – works fantastically, but the sound design is terrible. The background noise, the music score, all of it is too loud and makes those exposition dumps even more difficult to follow. This seems like the rare kind of movie that is better at home, where you can pause, rewind, manipulate the volume and potentially make a flow chart to try and make sense of the plot.

            Plot and the protagonist aside, the supporting cast is fine. Kenneth Branagh playing the evil Russian oligarch is fun but constrained by the writing. His abused wife, played by Elizabeth Debicki, is serviceable but flat. The only character who seems to be aware of just what kind of film he’s in is Neil, played by Robert Pattinson who shall never live down his role as Edward Cullen. He seems relaxed and mildly disinterested in the whole affair. In honesty, all of the actors are strong and could bring in better performances, but the writing constantly ties them down by prioritizing exposition over characterization.

All in all,

2 out of 5. Unnecessary but potentially fun.