Tenet ★★½

"It hasn't happened yet."

Tenet feels like exactly the kind of movie Christopher Nolan would write if he got drunk one night and his time fetish started acting up. I imagine him staring longingly at the kitchen clock, thinking with a sly smile that his wife sound asleep upstairs would have to produce whatever ridiculous bullshit he thought up, and then set to work on his typewriter, indulging in his greatest time-bending fantasies with no consideration given to literally anything else. Then he got sober and still went ahead and made the goddamn thing.

It is a movie that feels completely removed of story or themes, and, since pure storytelling is one of the things Nolan is best at, that doesn't bode particularly well for the film. It relies entirely on pure plot, but nothing about the plot matters or is supposed to matter, and the stakes never feel properly set up. Never mind that you never care about any of the characters; you never even care about the story or concept. I spent the entire movie asking "So what?", and no matter the dizzying array of spectacle and action sequences Nolan is prepared to give us, I was left mostly unaffected by the end. The concept never matters because Nolan never makes the concept matter; reversing the entropy of an object is an interesting idea, but Nolan never explores it in an interesting way, and, as a result, we are left with a movie that seems to want to damage the eardrums more than it wants to enlighten the mind.

Certain sequences are enthralling, and break new ground cinematically, which is nice. There is one fight sequence in particular that is shown twice from different perspectives that is one of the few times Nolan really exploits his concept to its full potential, and it is nice watching an action movie made up almost entirely of practical effects in an era where CGI rules the day. In particular, I enjoyed watching the plane crash into the airport, which simply could not have been as awe-inspiring if it wasn't done for real.

But as much as I admired from an action or technical standpoint, the dearth of character, themes, and story made it a mostly detached experience. The plot is confusing as hell, but even if I were to fully piece it together I don't think it would mattered in the slightest, because the movie never feels like a real narrative. It's a series of sequences strung together by a loose thread of weak characters and unexplored ideas, and feels more like a showcase for one singular gimmick than a story that really needed to be told. It was especially disappointing coming off of Inception and The Dark Knight where, despite their weaknesses in dialogue and direction, Nolan proved himself to be a masterful storyteller who could bring you into his wacky worlds of dreams within dreams and crazed clowns and actually invest you and make you care.

Even Interstellar looks great next to this, because, for the first two acts at least, Nolan did make you care about his characters and the concept he was exploring. It was the third act of that movie that really derailed things, as Nolan became completely detached from any semblance of narrative, only content to delve deeper into a concept of his own creation to the point where it didn't matter anymore. Tenet is like if the third act of Interstellar was the entire movie. On a more positive note, glad to finally be back at a theater. Even if it's with a movie that could stand to have the sound turned down a little.

Nick liked these reviews