Tenet

Tenet ★★★

Christopher Nolan really should've left science fiction alone after Inception.

It's become exceedingly clear that he learned the wrong lesson from that film's success, as he has clearly been operating under the assumption that mind-bending spectacle and increasingly heightened concepts are all he needs for runaway success. The importance of relatable characters and an established set of universal laws has seemingly gone unnoticed.

Interstellar was able to largely bypass this criticism, as it's emotional resonance was met with fairly universal praise (my own thoughts of the film don't really matter). Without this the increasingly flawed explanations of its pseudoscience become more readily apparent-- coincidentally, the exact situation that Tenet finds itself in.

There really aren't any characters to connect to in Tenet, with the film's protagonist being fairly lifeless and personality-free, and everyone else ranging from forgettable to infuriating. It's become increasingly apparent that Christopher Nolan doesn't actually understand how normal human beings talk, since there's effectively no natural dialogue in the entire film. Robotic, exposition-laden conversations dot a script that is overwhelmingly filled with otherwise forgettable interactions. Infrequent attempts at meta-commentary and fourth-wall breaks are overwhelming failures.

An equally alien understanding of the film's mechanics and pseudoscience further highlights these flaws. The "time-travel" mechanic is met with convenient limitations and exceptions, highlighting Nolan's own flawed conception of their functionality. Eventually, the audience will be forced to accept their use as a plot-device, and abandon any hope of a satisfactory explanation.

Thankfully, this is a beautiful trainwreck-- Nolan certainly understands how to make an entertaining spectacle, regardless of anything else. This film shines when the dialogue stops, and thankfully there's plenty of that to justify the price of entry. An admittedly underwhelming opening betrays an otherwise exceptional action film, with some genuinely stunning setpieces.

Although the ensuing scene is underwhelming, the early bungee jump is a heart-pounding hint of the potential waiting. The film's impending brutality is foreshadowed during a brief-- but noteworthy-- brawl in a kitchen, and then the real show starts.

Both the airport heist and freeway robbery are legitimate entries in Nolan's career highlight reel. There's a sense of scale and coordination only he's truly qualified at capturing, and while they aren't the best he's ever done they're still among the more interesting action moments in recent years.

The film's conclusion in the inverted timeline is a mess from a story perspective, but absolutely the most interesting segment visually. The effects work, editing, and choreography are legitimately stunning here-- by far the highlight of the film.

Tenet is a disappointing entry from a director of Nolan's caliber-- but it's promising to see that he's still willing to take risks. While I certainly hope he opts for something more manageable next, his creativity and conceptual bravery are always impressive.

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