Sometimes, films are unjustly judged. Other times, popular opinion needs to be challenged. Either way, our review of Tenet will almost definitely be Unpopularity Content.
Considering the massive success of the majority of his films, Christopher Nolan is considered one of the most brilliant directors in the industry. Is this reputation deserved? Absolutely. Does it mean that he can’t ever take things too far? Evidently not, if Tenet is anything to go by.
Tenet‘s story follows an unnamed protagonist, played by John David Washington, who learns of a potentially catastrophic plot involving time-inverted objects and a shadowy cabal from the future intent on destroying the world. He’s joined by Neil (Robert Pattinson), a member of an organization known as “Tenet”, as he works to unravel the plot, which is being exacted by a Russian oligarch (Kenneth Branagh. In essence, it’s a classic spy film inundated with complex sci-fi elements.
Though Tenet is broadly considered divisive, opinions on the film still err on the side of positivity. Its plot is considered overly complex and decidedly confusing, but critics still appreciated the visual spectacle of the film and Nolan’s imagination in bringing it to life. The consensus is largely positive, with one major caveat. However, this seems far too kind to a film that’s positively laden with issues.
Tenet’s Needlessly Complicated Plot Saps Its Best Narrative Qualities
Admittedly, Tenet‘s plot has the same mind-bending potential other Nolan films, such as Inception and Interstellar. However, it takes its imaginative premise just a little too far, as having objects and people moving backward through time be so central to the plot creates no end of problems that are conveniently ignored. Although the film acknowledges that the temporally opposed make for a volatile mix, it fails to adequately depict the interactions between them. In that sense, it’s actually dumbed down just a little, and it hurts the film’s all-important logic.
The story itself is intriguing, but the need to constantly assess each scene to work out what’s happening is incredibly tiresome. This is made even more complicated by the very vague rules set by the film, giving Tenet the air of the deliberately confusing. It’s a film that seems to delight in beating the audience over the head with its cleverness – despite the fact that it really isn’t half as clever as it believes it is. Ultimately, this robs the plot of any and all excitement, as it inevitably descends into an overly convenient self-contained loop that feels borderline insulting. It’s disappointing, because it highlights that for all Tenet‘s style, it can’t muster the substance to match it.
Tenet Is Almost Saved By Its Visual Spectacle And Excellent Actors
In fairness, Tenet is not entirely irredeemable. John David Washington is excellent in the lead role, and Branagh plays an appropriately disturbing villain. The performances of the film’s central cast carries it through its rougher patches, and large-scale visual spectacle ramps up the excitement factor.
The problem with Tenet is its central paradox: look too closely, and it makes very little sense, but don’t think too hard and you’re immediately lost. It seems as though Nolan was so caught up with bringing his time inversion idea to life that he failed to consider how incomprehensible Tenet‘s story would become, and it’s a shame. Though he’s deserving of the utmost respect as a director, Tenet is a rare misstep from Nolan.
Summary: Sound performances and interesting visual set pieces elevate Tenet to greater heights than its almost nonsensical plot deserves.
Highlight: The film’s final twist, predictable though it may be, was a neat and satisfying conclusion to an otherwise underwhelming plot.