Movie Review: Tenet is time wasted

Christopher Nolan is about as close to a mainstream auteur filmmaker as there is. Studios toss him millions of dollars, and he pumps out original modern classics like Inception and Dunkirk. His newest film, Tenet, has been something for film audiences to look forward to during this rather dismal year. Unfortunately, Nolan’s first screw-up is yet another thing to add to this year’s list of disappointments.

When a wealthy gun runner threatens to destroy the world, a covert team of CIA operatives is dispatched to stop him. They use a form of time inversion which allows them to move backward in time while the rest of the world continues forward.

This film is incredibly complicated, which is pretty common for Nolan’s films since he likes to juggle deep philosophies with an investing narrative. Unlike his other work, Tenet doesn’t really give viewers a chance to figure out what’s happening. Making sense of Tenet requires comprehension of the exposition-filled dialogue. However, the movie moves at such a brisk pace that it becomes nearly impossible to remember everything that is said.

The film’s complexity isn’t helped by the sound mixing, which is obnoxious. The score booms so loud that it shakes the audience’s chairs. Underneath that, the film’s dialogue can barely be heard. Several of the main characters wear masks throughout the film which muffles the quiet dialogue even further. Ludwig Göransson, known for his Oscar-winning work on Black Panther, composed the score, but it’s indistinguishable from a generic score from any other Nolan movie.

Tenet’s time-manipulation gimmick is admittedly pretty unique. Although after the film introduces time-manipulation and lectures the audience about it, the movie seems to forget about it for the next thirty minutes. The audience doesn’t get to use their newfound knowledge right away. It’s similar to how homework is beneficial to learning, if students don’t apply the information right away, there’s a strong chance they’ll forget it.

The movie isn’t without its redeeming qualities: Visually it’s quite a treat. Nolan has an affinity for keeping effects as practical as possible. He weaves together insane stunts with CGI seamlessly. By filming primarily on IMAX cameras (which provide a higher quality image and a wider field of view), Nolan manages to make the scale of every scene seem massive. He remains unsurpassed visually, even on his weakest film.

Tenet is packed with a talented ensemble cast with the likes of John David Washington, Robert Pattinson and Kenneth Branagh. Branagh in particular controls every scene he’s in. His villainous presence is unpredictable and intelligent — posing a true threat to Washington’s character (literally named The Protagonist). It’s a shame that the only main female role, portrayed by Elizabeth Debicki, is relegated to a damsel in distress whose only motivation is that she has a kid. How original.

People will defend this movie. That’s okay. However, Tenet’s complexity and arrogance shouldn’t be defended just because it’s made by an accomplished filmmaker. Even The Beatles made “Revolution 9.” The best philosophy to take away from the movie is this: It’s okay to have a film be enhanced by a second viewing, but a second viewing shouldn’t be required to process it.

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