Evan Lee Ambrose’s review published on Letterboxd:
Tenet is the definition of a cute one-trick pony.
At this point, I expect Christopher Nolan’s next film to fuck with time to such an incomprehensible state that we have every character from his past films (Leonard, Cobb, Cooper, every real life soldier from Dunkirk, etc.) all colliding from a designated period span in their movies, working together to fix time or some shit from ending not just the world in this newest circumstance, but the ABSTRACT, metaphysical inter-workings of meaning itself; it’ll be so fucking deep that you can’t even see it physically on screen even with a state-of-the-art electron microscope. Nolan will just explain it to you through his trademark “it certainly exists; you just can’t and will never be able to see it.” It’ll be like poetry, it’ll rhyme… or umm… oh, nevermind. To hell with whatever that quote was. I’m at a loss for words anyways.
I’m dead serious, though, this shit better happen or I’ll contrive a pointless protest like a real American does. #wearamaskyouidiots
Ok, now onto the actual review. Let me just find my notes here… hmm… AHEM. Yaddy yadda, reopening of theaters and Christopher Jonathan James Nolan proudly presents: Tenet, or better yet backwards, teneT—I genuinely think not knowing what happened in the movie vs. knowing damn well that that was the point of the title is less embarrassing than me not knowing that that was the point of the title vs. the fact that I understood (most of) the movie itself; I’m side-tracked, I know. This is officially the heavily acclaimed director’s 11th full feature-length and also officially the heavily acclaimed director’s 7th full feature-length to spotlight an intriguing concept of time structure—who would’ve guessed?
Christopher Nolan has directed arguably his richest action sequences yet in Tenet, blending literally reversed or made-to-look reverse footage directly into standard forward-moving shots. The intense care that must’ve been devoted to constructing these otherworldly, intricate pulse-pumpers is mind-boggling to me; meaning, I could never see a majority of other filmmakers pulling them off; fuck it, NOBODY else could probably do it unless they copied Nolan beat by beat like what Hollywood has been doing for the past decade. This man has squeezed the maximum of his energy into mush due to the commitment he has milked into this project that’s so carefully detailed in how defined its time functions are and how they choose to be visually demonstrated. I don’t know how this 50-year-old man could possibly have any blood vessels yet to erect more labyrinth action sequences like the many seen in Tenet for second rounds; I know I’d *croak* if I tried it, or for that matter, tried it on round one. Suffice it to say, these undeniably monumental virtues raised my score for this film considerably higher than what it could’ve easily been otherwise.
So now onto the topic of Tenet’s flaws, there’s a shipping-cargo-load of them, so buckle yourself up cause this shit is going to take a fat minute. John David Washington’s character (our lead to follow from beginning to end) is literally composed of just cringy, wiseass quips, learning how to tenet or whatever the fuck they call it because he had that “feel it” shit Joseph Gordon-Levitt had when figuring out Bruce Wayne was Batman (spoilers for anyone who didn’t know Bruce Wayne was Batman) in The Dark Knight Rises, and conveniently having a soft spot for Elizabeth Debicki and her son arguably over the sustainability of all human *bad word* existence as we know it. He’s called “The Protagonist,” putting us in the on-the-nose position of his undeveloped placement in Tenet, despite the fact that the movie decides to give his personality the whole pointless “heroic vendetta gist” in wanting to save Debicki’s mother-like livelihood as the obligatory side plot of the movie—something that debatably shouldn’t even be in a character meant to emulate the audience, rather so, something that should be in a character who deserves proper development to explain his erratic motivations.
Furthermore though—this isn’t even the inception of the issues with Tenet’s boring as shit characters—probably the shoddiest side of Tenet comes with Kenneth Branagh’s antagonistic personality, Andrei Sator: a cartoon-leveled villain with a cartoon-leveled performance—sorry Kenneth—that is as if a cheeseball Marvel villain was jumbled with the classic God-complex while simultaneously being birthed with a touchy persona being that of an abusive partner. It seems so detached from any other element that the movie wants to explore considering how robotic it’s all mostly meant to be, and, at worse, it’s only used to motivate Washington and not to be used to analyze Sator’s fiendish and spasmodic psyche. Nolan once again proves that he’ll make extroverted modifications of a certain type of individual to make him or her feel more inconceivable than the real monsters that exist in our genuine world. I hate when movies downplay evil personas and attempt to look at them from a superficial point of view and, moreover, use them as emotional bate for a central character. Movies have crafted horrible people many times before who genuinely appear as if they could be among us, but Sator feels too enigmatic and overripe to be seen as a justifiable choice to use as the possible cause of the world’s unequivocal decease.
So, ultimately, Nolan uses a very real issue like domestic violence so the movie has a pawn to enforce the slightest amount of repetitious levity—the whole son and mom complication is brought up constantly yet there’s never an authentic moment to let this triangular correspondence between husband, wife, and child sink in or to be constructed thoroughly. Over the years, Nolan has often been criticized for his lack of relatable characters—which I disagree (kind of) with, personally—and I’m sure this assessment has gone to his head especially after Dunkirk. The entire son and mom aspect feels so needlessly thrown in, considering nobody else in the movie is given moderate depth as Debicki is or, for another matter, it doesn’t seem warranted when the film wants us to think that we’re in an end of the *bad word again; excuse me* world situation—yeah, two people vs the 7-billion population is always a good way to get us to care about those two people (sarcasm if you didn’t pick it up). It’s as if Nolan needed this reassurance of conventional substance in his newest feature to assure that nobody calls his movie void of developed characters.
If anything, I would’ve loved if Nolan instead focused more creatively and harshly at the theoretics he brings up such as the paradoxical dilemmas in time or the ignorance of us only caring for what we see and not what we experience firsthand. Instead, they’re only hastily mentioned in abruptly momentary conversations between manakin-stone characters, and it just made me even stingier for more expansion. Nolan even tries to put a cap on these themes in the very last scene of the movie which of course he had to verbally explain too. I can truthfully see Tenet being a Nolan favorite among a majority if he had just utilized those philosophical entries and expanded on them with just as much shock or passion as what he put into his action spectacles, time concepts and twists. So to the people who are saying Tenet has no themes or emotional development: you’re objectively wrong. It indubitably has these efforts; they’re just founded off of a rudimentary mindset.
Like a true Nolan connoisseur, I’m going to connect my opening paragraph with the current one here *GASP TIME PARALLELING.* I’m a little polarized that the strong friendship between Washington and Pattinson is only “suggested” in the movie; Nolan tends to do this often to counterbalance genuine dexterity. He has slyly dug a rabbit hole out of this weakness by creating hypotheticals that exist in the universe of the movie but are rarely shown physically on screen. As neat as it may be from one point of view, the other point of view would find it less convincing to be told something exists rather than being physically proving something exists. In fact, Nolan does this a lot with other accounts to be mentioned in the feature-length such as the abundant exposition. Tenet attempts to shock us with uttered reveals that we would’ve probably never picked up on in the legitimate presentation of the movie. However, in the case of Washington and Pattinson’s connection, I did find the movie to have set-up their relationship in a convincing manner. My issue with their bond though simply comes from the chintzy conclusions Nolan chose for them, which ended up playing out as expected as many tragic bonding narratives do despite Nolan’s efforts to make it divergent, causing the film to appear even more like your customary blockbuster than ever before.
To not stray completely into the abyss of Tenet, I must say, I did fancy Ludwig Göransson’s score in Nolan’s latest by a significant margin. As dangerously loud as the chad IMAX speakers could possibly punctuate my ears with its musical, techno galore, I must say, it left me with at least the best migraine I’ve ever had—it’s a joke, migraines are for people with genuine issues unlike me; instead, I’m stuck here reviewing movies on a social media site, wasting my days as the inevitable comes to drag me into the depths of… Anywho, I’m getting off topic a bit, but just a BIT.
Back to my unapologetic spiel of Tenet’s dilemmas, a significant fragment of the editing or length of sequences in this film was honestly embarrassing, more so though in the first act. This feature’s initiative felt like a hot-potato of one-on-one explanation discussions between Washington or Pattinson and new exposition-central characters that we’ll briefly see again or literally never at all. These cardboard-cutout personalities will immediately have our main characters jump to the next bone-dry mission birthed from the thinness of a 007-esc order and so on so forth. As much as I can recollect, first we had a presumably high-up agent boosting up Washington’s ego, telling him he’s loyal and whatnot so he can be convinced to travel on this “time-fuck” mission, and then a scientist named Laura explains a chunk of the necessities in understanding time reversal while sending Washington to Alfred (the famous butler or Michael Caine or Nolan’s favorite elder, etc.) who sits comfortably at his expensive dine-out hotel to tell Washington to do shit (like the contradicting butler he is) that could’ve been expressed over a simple voicemail message, and lastly some guy *WAIT PLOT TWIST* it’s actually his wife (not the “some guy;” good one Nolan) then goes on to tell Washington to do a TON of shit, only for this lady to come back two more times to tell Washington to do a TON of shit again… and, you get the point.
Conclusively, the first act of the movie seemed so desperate to be exhaustively snappy because it has this “agenda” to complete in its limited 150 minutes. It’s like we were being hammered by one plot explanation over the other just so we could lose even more and more breath to the movie’s already tiring accessories. Honestly, if Nolan removed pieces of the verbal explaining, I could see Tenet not being any more confusing as what it is currently. If anything, the excessive indulgence to vocalize every intricacy of Tenet’s world-building and “on-paper” straightforward (yeah, you heard me) storyline makes the film unnecessarily overwhelming to digest. It’s like Nolan wanted the movie to be extra nauseating for no other reason than to befuddle audiences into watching it again. The event sequencing is what bothered me; it could’ve been protracted while restricting the amount of dialogue Tenet is so over-reliant on its audience having to listen to over these heavy accents and roaring musical numbers.
Side comment also: mark my words, the yacht race will go down as the worst sequence in Christopher Nolan history. What in the actual hell was that anyways, huh? I’d claim it’s legitimately the most confusing moment in all of Tenet, writing, editing, and just general existence-wise. Nolan went full Fast & Furious on our asses.
To offtrack my stupid side comment, I’ll finally conclude this review. As you’re experiencing all the little fragments of Tenet falling into place, I must admit, it is satisfying and commendable to witness; obviously, I can’t get into them because of spoilers, however, once you understand everything, I promise, you do gain this momentary dose of pleasure. Yet, after the screen lights had dimmed, and I had stepped into reality again, looking back at what happened, the movie instantly slipped out of my head. I couldn’t name anything that I felt bonded to watch again besides those wild, intricately constructed action sequences and reversal reveals. Just because the movie’s plot is complex in execution (minus the exposition) doesn’t necessarily make it investing as a whole to me, ya know? It was jaw-dropping to watch in some areas, and in others, it felt like an everyday, save-the-world blockbuster with a driving gimmick to differentiate itself. Even the moments when Nolan wants to shove philosophy or character validity down our throats, it just feels contracted in so that the movie can seem like something more than just a creative narrative scheme.
I’ve already made my claim before on how movies that are style over substance can be boundlessly masterful. Yet, I’ve noticed I tend to dislike the ones that are style oriented but gratuitously try to promote a substance asset to its cranium so it can be quote on quote “better,” when, in hindsight, it sometimes just bogs down the film and wastes our time as audience members. Either sturdily spend segments maturely expressing glossed-over story facets or simply don’t have them at all and fully embrace the madness of being an uncompromising action extravaganza. In all seriousness, I could easily see myself giving Tenet a positive score if it had just done this.
The best way I can describe Tenet is that it’s like observing a really cool magic trick being exhaustively explained; once you start putting the pieces together it’s internally gratifying, but that in of itself is what leaves me indecisive of what it gained for me afterwards. The time manipulation and Nolan’s inflexible grip on action sequencing may be enough merit-power for many to understandably consider it an excellent cinematic experience, but from the bounds of my spoiled noggin, I just felt like the remaining exteriors of the project were too standard, tangled, avoidable, and frankly, callow to validate Tenet as a solid piece.
Who knows, maybe I exist right now in a paradox universe where I’m reviewing the movie but haven’t actually seen it yet but I will eventually see it in order to come up with the thoughts expressed in my said review. Wait, nevermind; that would still suggest that the movie is just mid. Haha, me back at again with the shitty jokes. Hey, at least I didn’t write my entire weiver sdrowkcab.
🎭 Verdict: C+