TENET is a movie that's been hailed to save cinema from the ailments of internet streaming services and coronavirus. In this age of remakes and franchises, the studios have spent $200 million on Nolan's new darling, hoping that he will churn out another mind-blowing original winner.
When people see From Christopher Nolan on the trailer, it's like a Pavlovian dog being trained to saliviate on hearing a bell ring. "Oh, I was confused AF until I saw Nolan's name, now I'm mega-hyped!"
What I've described is just the marketing layer, which Nolan capitalizes upon with cryptic mystery around a central concept. Remember when you first heard of Inception, and people initially thought it was about a reality-warping paraplegic? At the end of the day though, when the hype is past, the story and the actual substance is what you stay for -- and this is where the movie falls flat.
The problem is three-fold: the audio-dialogue mixing sucks, the characters were cold, exposition MacGuffins, and (what concerns us here) the incredibly convoluted plot which arises out of the time inversion idea.
Stories about time travel can get very, very messy. Take a look at Primer (2004) for example, when you see two technicians accidently discover backwards Time Travel, and they use it to get themselves ahead -- only for things to go terribly awry. But what Primer does right, and what Tenet with all its loud, blaring music and sound fails to do, is captivate the viewer despite all the timey-wimey messiness. You saw how Aaron and Abe's relationship fell apart, and the sense of existential crisis they came to face over time travel. Primer gave you only momentary glimpeses into the entire story, but there WAS a genuine story about friendship, deceit and betrayal once you saw the events as a whole.
With Tenet, the story just boils down to "Saving the world from Temporal Bad Guy, and turns out the Protagonist was behind everything all along! It's fated!" There were internet commentators who did the job of explaining the tangled movie, but as soon as I understood Tenet's plot, I realised it simply WASN'T interesting, and it was a real waste of time when I hoped while watching the movie, at some point, it would kinda come together, like when Inception got us into those dream-heist layers.
The terrible.. erm, REVOLUTIONARY! sound mixing just served to obfuscate the audience's understanding, with the end result that people were scratching their heads "Huh?" while the middlebrow fanboys could pat themselves on the back, anallly keeping track of each event and plot point so they could proclaim that this movie is nothing short of a
What happened to the grounded relatability of Leonard Shelby, who had to deal with his life without memory context? Or the in-depth rivalry between Robert Angier and Alfred Borden? Is it just sheer coincidence that the movies I love the most from Nolan happen to have a tense, low-key score from David Julyan -- as opposed to Hans Zimmer's blaring drones?
Even in the Dark Knight Rises, I loved this scene where Alfred pulls all the stops from Bruce risking it all:
No humanity of this sort exists in Tenet, and for all the video reviewers who pour over the "intricate clockwork" that amounts to a toaster, you would long for a story anyone could connect with, before even thinking of trying to mind-blow them with ideas.