Movie Review: Seeing In 2021 With The Nearly Impenetrable ‘Tenet’

It was the end of 2020, a year that I’d really only ventured out to theatres for two films, that I can recall, at least. So, with the Princess in her bedroom having a Zoom party with her little friends, I thought the evening of December 31st, 2020 was as good a time as any to finally watch Christopher Nolan’s Tenet.

Oh sure, I could have gone to see it in an actual theatre when it became one of the few films that actually made it onto screens during the summer of 2020, but at the time I wasn’t keen on sitting in a theatre for two and a half hours with a mask over my face, watching a movie that I only had minimal interest in. I could do 94 minutes for The New Mutants, no sweat, because the running time was right AND I really wanted to see the film. Tenet, though? It felt like a film you should want to see, as though as a filmgoer you were under some form of obligation to see the new Nolan. However, in the comfort of my own home, surrounded by a menagerie of animals and the sound of a joyful little girl in her bedroom, the timing was right to experience it on 4K Blu-ray.

And boy, am I glad I waited to see Tenet. Because it’s not the easiest film to enjoy.

If you’re wondering what Tenet is about, and don’t feel bad if you are, because the trailers did nearly nothing to give you a hint about the plot, the movie is the story of The Protagonist (John David Washington) who, through various means of time manipulation, is tasked with preventing not just World War III, but the end of the world itself. That’s the plot in a nutshell, but believe me when I tell you that Tenet is far more complex than that sentence may lead you to believe. One may also say it’s convoluted, impenetrable, and almost incomprehensible, if one is inclined to go that route. And I might be.

Listen, I don’t mind working for my supper, as it were. I’m happy to watch a film and actually think about it. I’m open to interpreting what I’m seeing, and I don’t need things spelled out for me (otherwise I couldn’t be a David Lynch fan). However, concepts and theories in Tenet come at you so quickly, you’re barely given any time to digest what you’re hearing, let alone understand their complexities. I “kinda” got the explanation given for inversion, the film’s time manipulation method, but I’d be lying if I said I totally understood what I was seeing. That’s a problem when so much of Tenet is based on that concept. There are all sorts of online theories about what we’re seeing in Tenet as well, and that’s all well and good, but should an audience be reliant on googling “What’s Tenet About?” to help it make sense? I’d say no.

All of the film’s complexities would be alright with me if I actually gave a shit about any of the characters on screen and, unfortunately, I just didn’t. I feel as though Christopher Nolan was so busy working on his big ideas of time travel that he forgot to write compelling characters. And it’s not as if the actors involved do bad work; far from it, in fact. John David Washington makes for a compelling lead, and Robert Pattinson as his partner Neil does excellent work. Unfortunately, Kenneth Branagh’s Russian bad guy Andrei Sator feels like a typical spy villain, and Elizabeth Debicki, who plays Sator’s wife Katherine, is unappealingly icy. Her character, I think, is supposed to be heart of the film, a mother whose only desire is to be with her son, but that goal never feels anything more than a plot point, and one I just didn’t really care about.

There have also been criticisms online about Tenet‘s sound mix, but luckily I didn’t have any issues, mainly because my friend Josh told me to watch it with subtitles. It was a HUGE help, and I’d recommend that if you’re going to watch you do the same.

Of course, Tenet being a Nolan film, it still looks great, and there are some strong action sequences that kept me watching; you can certainly see where the $200 million budget went – it’s all on the screen. But the fact that Warner Brothers thought Tenet was such a summer film that it needed to get on screens in 2020 I definitely find mind-boggling. Tenet is not a people-pleasing, summer blockbuster film. Not at all. It’s an extremely (some may say overly/unnecessarily) complex science-fiction film that possesses no easy answers or explanations. Which would be fine if you were invested in any of the characters you’re watching, and your mileage will definitely vary on that.

Ultimately, I’m glad I watched Tenet. It’s definitely not a bad movie, but I have a hard time saying that I thought it was good either. It’s an experience, though, and maybe that’s good enough. Regardless, I’m glad I watched it as I said so long to 2020. Though my favourite part of the night was definitely watching the clock countdown on Animal Crossing with the Princess. That I had no problems understanding.

Happy New Year, friends! Stay safe, wear a mask, and thanks for reading. Tenet (4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital): Nolan, Christopher,  Pattinson, Robert, Debicki, Elizabeth, Washington, John David, Kapadia,  Dimple, Taylor-Johnson, Aaron, Poesy, Clemence, Caine, Michael, Branagh,  Kenneth, Dourif, Fiona, Patel, Himesh:

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