Movie Review – Tenet (First Film Watched in a Theater Since COVID-19)
The weekend of March 13 – Friday the 13th – an unlucky number, is the last weekend that movie theaters across the country were open. The last film I saw in theaters was the horror flick, The Hunt (2020). It’s been more than 15 weeks or about five months since the COVID-19 pandemc has kept people from gathering inside multiplexes. That time period included the summer season, which is typically the busiest and most profitable time of year for Hollywood. Having lost billions, the industry has slowly begun to reopen. F
or the weekend of August 21, the theaters in Rehoboth Beach, including the Movies at Midway and the Cinema Art Theater reopened. For the weekend of August 28, the theater in Dover, the AMC Dover in the Dover Mall, reopened. Finally, for the weekend of September 4, that of Labor Day weekend, select theaters in Maryland reopened. This includes the theater in Salisbury, the Regal Salisbury & RPX and the theaters in Ocean City. However, theaters in Baltimore and DC have yet to reopen. However, select theaters in Philadelphia are set to reopen for the weekend of September 11. Some films have been playing since that initial August 21 date, but, for many, this film will be the first that they have seen or will see, going back to the multiplex.
This is Christopher Nolan’s 11th feature film as director and I would probably rank it at the bottom. His worst film used to be The Dark Knight Rises (2012), but I would put that film, which I thought was mostly garbage, above this one because at least The Dark Knight Rises drew upon one of his best and drew from iconic characters that have a long history. It also wasn’t as much of an onslaught as this film. This film wasn’t exciting as it was simply loud and at a pace that’s almost a crack-addict’s momentum. Nolan demands that people go to theaters to see his films, specifically to IMAX theaters, but honestly, this one is the first that I would say skip the theaters and wait for home video.
Nolan appears to be doing a spy action story here, but it just felt so hollow and empty. There have been plenty of action films, even spy action flicks that were a bit hollow and empty, but the sequences were so interesting and fun that those flicks overcome whatever hollowness and emptiness exist. The recent Mission: Impossible and The Fast and the Furious films come to mind, but those films are sequels that have a foundation that isn’t hollow or empty. Most action films these days are either sequels or comic book flicks, so it’s rare for a film to have this criticism. There aren’t that many original blockbusters and of the recent spy films, there’s usually more that’s done to make them feel more substantial. Yet, Nolan might argue that his film is less a spy flick and more in the way of a Spaghetti western, but one involving spies or spy-like characters in modern and urban settings.
John David Washington (Ballers and BlacKkKlansman) stars as an unnamed CIA operative or some kind of secret government agent working in Ukraine or Eastern Europe near Russia. He remains unnamed throughout the whole film, much like Clint Eastwood’s character in A Fistful of Dollars (1964) remained nameless. As such, delving into his life, background and who he is aren’t necessary. It’s more about the mission and the scenarios. Some might also compare Washington’s character to Daniel Craig’s character in the recent James Bond films. Bond’s backstory, at least in Casino Royale (2006), was a bit of a blank. Some might also compare Washington’s character to Tom Cruise’s character of Ethan Hunt in the aforementioned Mission: Impossible franchise. Hunt’s backstory, at least in the 1996 film, wasn’t much of a factor. Yet, still, Cruise and Craig are given more to do character-wise and even action-wise than Washington is given here.
Regardless, the Mission: Impossible and James Bond films stand for me as an excuse to string together really cool, action sequences. A person’s mileage may vary as to how cool those sequences actually are and how much they really stick in one’s mind. In the James Bond films and the Ethan Hunt films, those stories knew that they were essentially just trying to string together cool action sequences, so that was their focus. Because that was their focus, the action sequences in those films turned out well, in fact better. Nolan, however, has a divided focus. He’s not just focusing on the action. He’s also trying to juggle a ridiculous science-fiction conceit that hinders rather than helps the action.
Robert Pattinson (The Lighthouse and Twilight) co-stars as Neil, an operative who assists Washington’s character in his mission. It’s not clear where Neil came from or who’s employing him. He just appears as a guy who can just help Neil make certain connections or get him certain supplies for missions. If you watch James Bond or Ethan Hunt films, they always have a team, men and women who assist in accomplishing the missions. There’s usually a main sidekick to Bond or Hunt, or a point person for the team. In this case, Neil is that person.
Washington’s character and Neil then proceed on their mission. Through which, there are four major action set-pieces. Those set-pieces aren’t all that incredible. In fact, they feel rather boring because unlike Mission: Impossible or a James Bond flick, I never felt like I understood what the objective was in any of the set-pieces. Even the opening action sequence felt convoluted. I never felt like I understood who was doing what and why. Unfortunately, it was staged and edited in such a way that I couldn’t even tell who or where Washington’s character was. Such has been the case with Nolan and his two previous films with Tom Hardy that he puts a mask over the face of his protagonist, which has realistic purposes, but only frustrates as it distances the audience from that protagonist. I understand that Washington’s identity is meant to be obscured, but to do it in the opening scene only hinders not helps the storytelling.
Once the science-fiction element of “inversion” is introduced, which is the concept of having things moving forward in time interacting with things moving backward in time, then the film gets even more confusing. Apparently, inversion is a concept that is invented and a machine is built to achieve this inversion. It’s explained using bullets from guns. It’s a new “bullet time” in reference to The Matrix (1999). When a person goes through the machine, they then start traveling backward in time and they perceive everything around them as going backwards. Anyone perceiving them who isn’t inverted will perceive them as moving backwards. However, it’s suggested that things can move backwards even without going through the machine. Why this inversion is practical or how anyone would really use it aren’t explored. The implications though of it raise a lot of questions that would result in the concept not making much sense.
The final action sequence, however, is supposed to really incorporate this concept, but that final sequence is just a mess that looks like a war scene where a bunch of guys are running and yelling. Yet, it’s not clear who they’re fighting and why. The objective never seems clear. The actors are all in masks, so distinguishing them from one another is impossible. The only noticeable visual effect is explosions and collapsing building going in reverse, but it’s not that impressive, given that I had no comprehension of what the people were doing.
PG-13 for violence, action, suggestive references and brief strong language.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 30 mins.
In theaters in states that allow open theaters.