Tenet ★★★½

"Don't try to understand it. Feel it."

Probably the best approach to a first viewing of Nolan's latest blockbuster tentpole is to breathe in the experience and let it take its effect upon you, rather than to try to understand everything the first time. Nolan handles different levels of time in perhaps the most confusing and headache-infusing way imaginable, and it's a blast to watch it on the screen. Despite some convoluted and uninspired editing choices, Nolan's approach is arresting and consistently captivating, and never leaves you with the time and breath to actually familiarize yourself with the story and the characters. It's major plot point after major plot point after major plot point, with everything connected in such a complex and entangled way that you have to pay a lot of attention to unravel the actual plot.

While all of Christopher Nolan's previous films have been technically astounding and thrilling with respect to the unraveling of their complex plots, one of his major weaknesses has always been to create interesting characters whose memorability is fueled by something other than the well-known acting star portraying them. It's one of several underlying issues of Tenet, and one that I suppose might hurt its rewatchability for me in the long run. The cast is an excellent assembly of talented actors: Robert Pattinson, John David Washington and Elizabeth Debicki make up one of the most interesting leading cast ensembles in a blockbuster I have seen in a while. However, none of their characters are particularly interesting in their own right, the moral challenges these characters are facing are never used to fuel their development or growth. Debicki's character is confronted with perhaps the most complex character-related moral trial, yet she is portrayed in such a one-dimensional way that defines her solely through her relationship with her abusive husband. I think that many of Nolan's films are already close to perfection with respect to plot and technical achievements, but the characterization department is something that still offers room for improvement.

But perhaps the biggest flaw of Tenet is its lack of substance beyond its complex plot. It's a lot of fun and very entertaining to unravel and understand the nonlinear plot structure, but beyond that, it feels thematically empty and lacking. Most of Nolan's previous films tackled some important underlying themes, whereas this one doesn't really seem to go beyond its original intention of portraying the prevention of the Third World War and painting the characters in a frustrating 'good vs. bad' light. The more I think of it, the characters in Tenet pretty much feel like the definition of a Mary Sue or a John Doe; they are seemingly capable of defeating everyone, of understanding everything immediately, and somehow remain almost completely flawless.

But I might be wrong. It's been only twelve hours since I watched this film, so maybe its meaning between the lines will still clear itself up over time, and the undoubtedly required rewatches might still convince me of its thematic richness and complex characterization upon further viewings. I doubt it, but I wouldn't rule out the possibility.

Anyway, despite my overall rather negatively connotated review, I really enjoyed the theatrical experience. Christopher Nolan has a remarkable sense of creating cinematic, original blockbusters that defy the rules set by previous films, and infuse the movie landscape with some much-needed breath of invention, even if it might not always work.

2020 Ranked
Ranked: Christopher Nolan's Films

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