Tenet ★★★½

Christopher Nolan is a filmmaker who makes sure to catch you unawares even as he begs your attention. he makes movies for which your enjoyment is contingent on thought. it has, in fact, become his brand. with Tenet, he takes his brand to new heights, doubling down on his ambition and magnitude, which serve as both an advantage and disadvantage to the film as a whole. 

i’ve always thought that Nolan’s films are built on the basis of science, reveling in its intelligence, while giving the audience something more weighty to chew on. but, they’re always propelled by emotions that dig a core deeper than logic. even in spite of its grandiosity, Tenet is so anti-Nolan in the fact that it discards everything upon which his previous movies were founded, going for larger-than-life ideas and set pieces at the expense of the paradoxical intimacy that his other blockbusters managed to evoke.

and, for the most part, it works in the film’s favor: for as much as the characters shed light on the inner workings of the story (in lengthy bouts of tedious, hard-to-hear exposition, no less), we’re almost always left in a state of darkness, knowing not what is happening even as it is spat in our faces. it’s an exciting shroud of suspense that i haven’t seen Nolan utilize since The Prestige, with nearly every frame producing a gasp because what you see on screen is very different from what is truly happening. all this he achieves because he’s at the pinnacle of cinematic magic, creating wonders with the camera that many other auteurs could only dream of. 

but i can’t help but wonder if Nolan’s bloated thematic structure is beginning to suffocate any actual meaning this film should have. at a time when Nolan’s tent pole blockbusters are the anomaly to the soulless skeletons of CGI fodder, Tenet is unambiguously a popcorn movie that seems to exist for the sake of itself. he’s a filmmaker at the top of his game, but Tenet is painstakingly pushing his peak — there’s only so many ways to manipulate time and space, and there’s only so many cars you can blow up (though he spices it up here by also doing it in reverse) before it becomes repetitive.

all of this isn’t to say that Tenet is not an enjoyable experience; John David Washington has never been more magnetic in a role that proves that he’s a superstar, and his chemistry with Pattinson, Debicki, and even Branagh is electric. plus, Nolan switching out Hans Zimmer for Ludwig Göransson might just be the greatest thing to come out of this movie. where Zimmer’s ‘bwaaaams’ and tik-toks prove predictable, Ludwig brings that fresh, reverberative sound that made the Black Panther score so memorable, creating something new that’s also pleasantly familiar in the world of Nolan.

at the end of the day, Christopher Nolan has now come to devise a formula for himself, one that — without the helping hand of a deeper, underlying essence (or that of his brother Jonathan) — proves disconnecting. i think it might be time for Nolan to switch up his structure, but for that to happen, he needs to return to his blueprint and construct a brand new thought.

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