Tenet (2020)

Tenet (2020) Cover

I never thought this day would come, but, I have just walked out of Tenet, the latest blockbuster from Christopher Nolan, completely disappointed. Convoluted, overly dense, jammed packed with dry exposition, and muddy audio to wrap it all up in a tight little bow. But the most frustrating part of Tenet, is that there is a really fun action flick buried under all of the baggage of trying to be a thought-provoking experience.

After a mission gone bad, The Protagonist (John David Washington) takes a suicide capsule rather than reveal information about his mission. This resolute soldier, supposedly having shown extreme loyalty by taking the capsule, is rescued and given a mission to save the world. After his employers give him only a gesture and a word to identify himself, The Protagonist sets out on a mission to save the world from weapons traveling backward through time by submerging himself in a world of intrigue, betrayal, and arms dealers.

The premise sets the stage for some of the most amazing action sequences on film. It's hard not to feel like you're in a waking dream when everything on the screen flowing backward and forward through time in the same scene. The mastery of action direction mixed with creative composition is deeply disorienting while being a thrill to watch. I only wish that the rest of the construction of the film or even the story could stand up to the inspiring imagination of the fight choreography.

I found myself deeply disappointed in the simple things. The audio fluctuates wildly from loud explosions and blaring music to critical dialog flowing in rapid condensed conversations. It's a sound editing nightmare of conflicting priorities that leaves the viewer trapped between the story and the action. This is a bad enough problem on its own, but, taken in conjunction with an incomprehensible plot, the sound is a nightmare.

While you may expect a film about moving backward and forward through time simultaneously to be a bit twisty, Tenet really drops the ball when it comes to tying everything together. While the broad strokes work, such as which characters show up at which point in the story, the small stuff is incredibly fuzzy and poorly tracked. It often feels like you can't tell what objects are or are not moving in which direction and it becomes clear that the filmmakers may not know either. Scenes get cut short and the film resumes with a character just telling us how the rest of the scene went. The plot is drowning in shallow characters that could have been reduced to a more effective and simple cast. Between the flimsy attention to detail, the muddy audio, and the brutal over-reliance on the dialog to communicate critical information, Tenet is downright frustrating to watch whenever it lets you catch your breath.

This insane complexity just wasn't necessary. Especially since the basic tenets of the film boil down to Back to the Future time travel rules. Modern audiences are perfectly capable of understanding rules when clearly presented, but many will find the presentation here incomprehensible.

The issues with Tenet run deep, which is intensely painful given how much promise it has and how much I wanted to like it. I honestly just don't have time to touch on everything that undermined the experience. I may even be being too hard given that I did enjoy the film to an extent. It's just hard to ignore all of the things that feel like flaws when Nolan's direction outright demands that you pay as close attention as possible. This is one you're likely to enjoy if you can see past all the junk weighing it down, but overall Tenet just doesn't deliver on the basic principles.

Final Verdict:Despite its disappointing structure and plot, Tenet still delivers creative action that will make your heart pump.