Tenet

Tenet ★★½

You’d think “a blockbuster action movie with the real-time time travel hook of Primer” would be something more exciting. I mean, for God’s sake, this even has a credits rap, it has absolutely no right to be so self-serious and turgid. But this is Nolan we’re talking about, so...

A movie of contradictions. Clearly shooting to remove human characters from the equation entirely, angling to be a “beautiful bodies in beautiful places doing cryptic things for cryptic reasons” sort of flick, which I’m known to enjoy, but then why let your actors exercise any of their natural charm? In order to subvert the human element in film, you have to start from an understanding of it, something Nolan even at his most satisfying has never demonstrated. Once this loosens up (and stops making a shred of sense) in the back half it starts to be more fun, but it still manages new ways to be self-defeating - why give these characters emotional beats when the past two hours seemed to deliberately avoid doing so? Why have The Protagonist repeatedly shout “I’m The Protagonist!” in response to having his authority and importance questioned like you’re about to make some subversive statement on the Hero’s Journey, throw him into a collective entity like you’re actually following through with it, then circle right back around to having him be the center of everything?

The perfect demonstration of the frustrating interlinked nature of Tenet’s successes and failures comes with its best action sequence, a genuinely electrifying reprise of an earlier one from a fresh perspective. It’s a blast! While that’s happening, The Protagonist’s next destination is revealed. How is he gonna get there? He’s going to enter a shipping container and - get this - wait it out. For every neat idea, there’s an extended action-free sequence of characters using ridiculous jargon to explain and describe one of the most intensely and immediate visual gimmicks in action movie history - if characters need to talk about this, why show it? As an audience, it’s incredibly easy to pick up on. The back half of this movie reveals that it’s been discussing mechanics at the expense of discussing what’s actually happening, leaving in all the conversations about the stuff that’s easy to grasp and practically refusing to say anything about where, when and who the characters are, leading to an incoherent mess of a third act. A director as smart as people seem to think Nolan is would’ve made this an hour shorter and less deliberately obfuscatory, but of course Nolan fans seem to think that obfuscation is a shortcut to intelligence, nuance and interest.

You shouldn’t need me to tell you it isn’t, and you shouldn’t need me to tell you not to go to the movie theater for this or anything right now, but if you do need to hear those things, then you can probably safely ignore them, cuz you’re the exact kind of stupid to think spending 60$ to see Tenet in a theater during a pandemic was worth it. Everything Nolan’s trying here - the removal of character, the ticking clock, even the jagged temporality - was done better in Dunkirk, which, while unspectacular, at least had the good graces to be an hour 40. I’ve seen some compare this to Miami Vice and others say that it makes no sense to compare it to Miami Vice - I think it’s a worthwhile comparison, in the sense that Miami Vice, a visually spectacular, constantly-moving film with a big beating heart despite the cryptic trappings, succeeds in all the places Tenet, a bloated, ugly, inhuman mess, fails. Not by any stretch the worst movie of the year, but a uniquely disappointing and frustrating one, one that got lucky enough that it’s ridiculous announcement as an “event picture” ended up making sense, letting Nolan promote this the same way he’s wanted to for all of his other movies - as the savior of cinema. Just stay home and let this flop, maybe that’ll force Nolan to actually make a movie next time instead of this empty spectacle shtick.

P.S. every time a character mentioned the grandfather paradox, which of course never goes anywhere, I was just reminded of how good this dj set is. If Tenet’s soundtrack was replaced with this it’d be a 4 star movie easy

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