2020 has been a very wild year, to say the least. The effect COVID-19 has had on theatrical releases is something that will change the way movies are distributed for years to come. Christopher Nolan's newest epic 'Tenet' is set to restart the box office and bring audiences back to the cinema for 2020. Does 'Tenet' live up to not only Christopher Nolan's filmography but the secrecy around the film? I may have some bad news for you.
Armed with a single word - Tenet - a man (John David Washington, 'BlacKkKlansman', 'The Old Man & the Gun') discovers inverted objects - for example, where instead of shooting bullets, you catch them. This new technology proves to be a threat and could mean the start of World War III, so the hunt is on to find the origin of this new technology before it falls into the wrong hands.
Do you remember watching 'Inception' or 'Interstellar' and maybe not fully understanding it, but being drawn into the emotion and spectacle? 'Tenet' has none of that. I couldn't get invested in any character, and while I like all the actors there was nothing to grab onto. I understand that's part of the point, but when the visuals are lacking and missing for large gaps of movie, it's hard to be invested in anything here. We go from a scene about someone explaining something, to another scene with a person we don't know explaining something else, rinse and repeat - and every hour there's an action scene that looked cooler in the trailer. John David Washington has leading man potential but he is wasted here, Robert Pattinson ('The Lighthouse', 'High Life') is charming as hell but isn't in much of the movie, Elizabeth Debicki ('The Great Gatsby', 'The Man From U.N.C.L.E.') is badass but is often relegated to a damsel in destress. Kenneth Branagh ('Murder on the Orient Express', 'Dunkirk'), probably feeling good that people forgot he directed 'Artemis Fowl', makes for an interesting villain, but with his motives unclear it's hard to understand why he's there - plus his Russian accent is hard to understand for most of the film.
This doesn't come close to comparing with 'Inception'. Even if you didn't fully understand how going into dreams worked, on a basic level you still understand the emotional element with Leonardo DiCaprio and his family. Again with 'Interstellar', the visuals and audio are so jaw-dropping you can't look away, and you're also hooked on Matthew McConaughey and the love for his daughter, Murph. Both these films are high concept and for most require a rewatch or some additional research to fully grasp the idea, but you feel compelled to put in that extra effort because you were invested in the film and want to appreciate it more. 'Tenet' has none of that - there are too many long dialogue scenes that feel like they aren't going anywhere so you just get bored. The film doesn't want to let you in, which can work, but for me it just made me check out and refuse to engage with it, as it felt like I wasn't being invited to join in. Having ideas audiences can't understand is absolutely fine, but if you don't give them some kind of grounding - be emotion or effects - it makes for a boring sit.
Christopher Nolan seems drunk with power on this one, and it feels like the studio let him go and didn't pull him back. You can hear him being the lens going, "Tehehe you don't understand my movie, that sounds like a you problem." His other works feel more thought-out, but with 'Tenet' I couldn't even really explain what 'Tenet' is. We are first told it inverted objects, catching instead of shooting, simple enough. But then there is also a time travel element to it - that's cool, but it feels they just make 'Tenet' whatever they need it to be.
The film has to be interesting, and 'Tenet' simply isn't. Nothing here makes me want to work things out; it's forgettable. Unfortunately, 'Tenet' is not here to save the 2020 box office.
You feel you're constantly catching up and not in a fun way - you're figuring things out the entire time. We understand that we need to find the dealer of these inverted bullets, so we track them down and learn a new name. Now we see Michael Caine (who I honestly forgot was in this movie, Michael Caine was... forgettable), I don't know why but now an artwork is brought up and this somehow is linked to Debicki's character, and now we are blowing up a plane... wait, a plane for who? Then a couple scenes later we realise the plane is blowing up this artwork storage place that houses Debicki's husband's art and it's some kind of revenge... what why do we care about art now, it was originally bullets? We don't even know what the artwork looks like or its value until later. Non-linear storytelling is fine; you used to be good at that Mr Nolan - remember your film 'Memento'? - but here there is just a lack of investment.
I fully understand that he is trying to play with time, as that what's the movie's about - and yes, he is known for confusing movies - but here, Nolan has made something uninteresting. The idea of things going backwards is cool, but the rules are unclear. We never know what the basic goal is - I could understand secrets, but the film has to be interesting and 'Tenet' simply isn't. Nothing here makes me want to work things out; it's forgettable. Sure, you can say this has to be seen on the big screen, but the long runtime makes it unappealing to most mainstream audiences. Unfortunately, 'Tenet' is not here to save the 2020 box office. I work at a cinema, and to say it underperformed well would be correct. We are going to see more 'Tenet' hot-take YouTube videos than thinkpiece/what you missed ones. Christopher Nolan has made his most forgettable film to date - it's not a bad movie and I'm sure his diehard fans will adore this one, but for everyone else, there isn't much here. 'Tenet' won't be remembered as another "groundbreaking visual spectacle" from Nolan or for "saving cinema". It will be remembered for its weird release schedule and having been shown during a global pandemic, and that's unfortunate. Like the rest of the year, 'Tenet' is a write-off.
Also, why the hell does 'Tenet' have a tie-in song from Travis Scott? A Christopher Nolan movie has a tie-in rap song. 2020 really is wild.