In a twilight world of international espionage, an unnamed CIA operative, known as The Protagonist, is recruited by a mysterious organization called Tenet to participate in a global assignment that unfolds beyond real time. The mission: prevent Andrei Sator, a renegade Russian oligarch with precognition abilities, from starting World War III. The Protagonist will soon master the art of “time inversion” as a way of countering the threat that is to come.
Director Christopher Nolan (Interstellar, The Prestige, Inception) is known for challenging his audience members to think outside the box. There is often always some theme that needs to be pulled from between the lines to get a full understanding of the message he’s trying to present. Tenet takes that to the next level, which in this case, may not turn out the way the director originally anticipated.
When it comes to Nolan’s films, they’re not just movies, they’re events, and it’s a near guarantee that you’ll be amazed by some aspect of his storytelling or latest technical achievement. As far as technical achievements go Nolan has done it again. He was able to craft a story centered around time travel, but with a spin that the majority of movie goers have yet to experience. Nolan calls it, “time inversion,” and visually it’s a marvel that’s still difficult to wrap my head around. The concept in itself is brilliant, and the way he choreographed multiple sequences from highway car chases to one-on-one hand-to-hand combat was literally mind bending. It was a true spectacle to witness onscreen, especially with the majority of this film being shot with IMAX cameras. This man was able to manage two characters fighting each other while one was going forward in time and the other was going backwards in time. This alone is worth the price of a ticket admission, on top of his other triumphs he was able to accomplish behind the camera this time.
The entire cast he was able to bring together is nothing to scoff at either. Kenneth Branagh’s role as the evil antagonist Adrei Sator was quite frightening, and he proved himself as a worthy villain you’d think twice about double-crossing. Having John David Washington’s (Blackkklansman) character, named The Protagonist, as the main lead was a breath of fresh air as the first Black male at the center of one of Nolan’s films. Nolan is known as a big James Bond fan, and you could feel those elements all throughout this film. If you ever wanted to see a black James Bond character, Tenet is the closet thing to it. Like his father Denzel, John David Washington was born for the big screen. His talent is effortless and comes across so smooth and natural with every line of dialogue that he delivers. He even has the physicality down to match his demanding presence when he walks into a room.
To top everything off Nolan’s main composer, Hans Zimmer, wasn’t able to participate this time due to scheduling conflicts; but his replacement, Ludwig Göransson[EA1] , in no way shape or form missed a beat. His composition was astounding and will inspire you to be the best version of yourself that you possibly can.
However, when it comes to all of Nolan’s films, in my opinion there are a few that he knocked out of the park, and unfortunately Tenet is not one of them. There are a few issues that drag it down from its potential greatness that it was destined for. With that being said, Nolan has a huge problem with his sound mixing of the dialogue coming from the characters. With such a complex, convoluted story and plot, it is essential that an audience member be able to hear the majority of the dialogue, and that just wasn’t the case. During moments of important exposition some of the characters sounded muffled, as if their mouth was being covered involuntarily. This is a huge problem and will leave you extremely frustrated when you’re trying to piece all of the puzzle together.
To add to the mayhem the film clocks in at two and a half hours, and that simply isn’t enough runtime to explain the full synopsis of the story to the viewer. Unless you have a doctorate degree in Physics, it’s nearly impossible to fully understand what was going on in the story. Now everything is beautiful to see from a visual and technical perspective, but I can’t help but to imagine how much more I would’ve enjoyed myself if the plot and story devices of “time inversion” were explained more thoroughly. One character towards the beginning of the film muttered the words, “Don’t think to hard about it, just feel it.” Whether this was intentional or not this was a lazy attempt to express that the plot doesn’t entirely make sense, and just to go with it. Going into this film I knew I would have to think, but not have to take the bar exam in some foreign alien language.
To pile even more on to the negative end was the blind devotion The Protagonist had towards the character Kat (Elizabeth Debicki). There was nothing that warranted this behavior and was somewhat of a forced romance which too much of the story centered around. Tying that in with a real lack of motivation for the villain Andre to execute his plan, I just wish their backstory could’ve been more fleshed out.
However, even analyzing this entire film and all its short comings, it’s still an amazing feat that Nolan was able to bring to the big screen. One that he should be proud of. As a Nolan fan I got everything I wanted, but in addition a few extra elements that tainted my full enjoyment of the film. The end action scene was magnificent to say the least even with me admitting I barely knew what was going on or when it was all happening. It says a lot when a film can confuse you beyond belief, but you’re still able to be fully entertained and engaged as if you truly did comprehend everything you set out to from the beginning. This film does require multiple viewings to grasp the whole concept entirely, but that’s not a problem seeing that those were my exact expectations from the start.