Tenet ★★

I’m not going to be able to do much here besides repeating the same thoughts that I’m sure plenty of others have said before me. Just to scribble some of my own out though, I’ll indulge myself. I’m sure many have noted the pandering wink of Nolan including the line, “Don’t try to understand it”, within the first 20 or so minutes of this cataclysmic whatsit, and that’s really all you need to know. Nolan has been hit or miss for me since his debut, but he’s always been someone who I’ve eagerly anticipated his next film because I knew he would be giving me an experience different than anything else that was coming out. I suppose that could be considered the case with Tenet as well, yet ultimately I feel like the filmmaker has disappeared inside of himself with his latest. I can point to each movie in his output so far, even the ones that I dislike, and distinctly feel their own unique personalities. Tenet has zero personality of its own. It’s a completely hollow endeavor. Seemingly it relies on craft trickery to astound the audience, but I don’t even think that’s here enough to be the thing that the movie is entirely relying on.

Nolan’s been criticized before for making movies that are emotionless, yet I’ve found emotional ins for several of his movies (I cry every time I watch Inception, and there’s plenty of emotion to be found in Memento and The Prestige). He’s been criticized for style over substance, for using characters as crops, yet I’ve often found his characters to be the most interesting and engaging parts of his movies. Dunkirk was the first time where I felt like a movie of his was all craft, and the craft there was good enough to sustain it for its running time. Here he didn’t have the emotion, the characters, the narrative trickery, or the craft to make this feel like a worthwhile endeavor. It simply isn’t memorable in any way, which is the greatest crime of all. There’s no experience. You simply move from one scene to the next, often having no clue what’s going on because Nolan isn’t interested in allowing the audience to keep up. He wants to fool you, but when it all clicks and you can look back and see the pieces line up, there’s no “a-ha!” kind of fun revelation because even when you understand it everything is so hollow and bland that it doesn’t matter. It’s a mystery box of a movie where you don’t even care about the mystery getting solved.

Pattinson is the only actor who brings any sense of charm or charisma to the table. Washington is saddled with this bland audience surrogate role that takes a backseat to everything else going on, and then somehow the revelations happen for him in the final act that are absolutely meaningless. Elizabeth Debicki gets labored with perhaps Nolan’s most blatantly problematic portrayal of women (or lack thereof) in his deeply male-centered oeuvre yet. I don’t think Nolan is sexist inherently, the same way I don’t think someone like Scorsese is sexist, but especially after watching this there really is no question that he has some big issues with how he views women and when you trace the course of the female characters over his career it’s extremely clear to see. Then you get to Kenneth Branagh, who is perhaps the worst casting decision of any movie this year. He sucks the air out of the room every time he comes on screen.

I enjoyed the back and forth between Pattinson and Washington, and honestly the most frustrating thing about the movie is that its sequel baiting ending actually made me want to see another movie that’s just these two characters on a string of adventures. Ultimately though, the characters here feel so anonymous and unimpressive. That pushes Tenet to rely entirely on its nonsense plotting that directly tells you to not even bother trying to understand because you won’t get it until it’s all over and you can kind of piece the overall picture together if you care enough to bother with it. Or it could rely on craft, which has a few fun looking moments with the time inversion, but even they aren’t nearly enough to make this feel worth spending two and a half hours with.

The climactic battle sequence features three separate armed squadrons on a battlefield and I couldn’t for the life of you tell you what was going on or why I was supposed to care. The much ballyhooed plane crash sequence is Hollywood excess at its finest, a huge set piece designed seemingly just to be a talking point for Nolan when he’s doing press for the movie. It’s totally unnecessary in the scheme of the plot, and while I love practical stunts in this day and age this definitely isn’t Mad Max: Fury Road because the crash moves so slow and it just kind of… goes into the building, not igniting even the slightest crumb of exhilaration from seeing a major action sequence in a movie the way that it was talked up as. It’s just another disappointing element of what is easily the most forgettable film of Nolan’s career.

Added to Ranked: Christopher Nolan
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