If I could go back 184 days to the last time I watched a movie in theaters I would’ve probably told myself to soak it in. I would’ve said to make sure to enjoy it because it would be the last movie I watch for six months, and my past self probably would’ve likely laughed in my face. Admittedly that isn’t an unusual occurrence for me, but the point remains that this is probably the longest stretch I’ve gone without seeing a new movie in theaters since I was old enough to drive.
At least in my part of the country (which is now Orlando, Florida) theaters are open and movies are back to some extent. Theater openings happened just in time for the newest Christopher Nolan blockbuster to roll out! Tenet is a movie that has been on my radar for well over a year, and I even mentioned that it was the 2020 movie I was most anticipating in the 19th episode of the Banter? I Hardly Know Her! podcast. With Nolan being undoubtedly my favorite director in Hollywood, my standards for his movies are remarkably high. How does Tenet compare to some of his other masterpieces? Let’s get into it!
Spoiler-Free First Impressions
Like most Nolan films, I am going to need to see it again before I can obtain the full experience of the movie. There is so much exposition (or lack there-of) to be gained during the first viewing that will make the second viewing far more interesting. If I am being honest with myself, there was a lot of time when I had very little idea what was happening plot-wise, but was just awestruck by the cinematography and action sequences.
Tenet is a confusing film, as is true with any movie that even loosely involves an alternate way of experiencing time. There was one point in the movie when I felt as though Nolan was staring right at the audience when one of the characters said “Don’t try to make sense of it” when talking about the inverted elements and how they experience time. It is so true that if you get caught up on that aspect of the film, it’s going to be tough to get past. As you go through the plot more things start to make sense, or at least I started to accept their reality a little more, one of the two.
The action sequences in this film were elite tier as we’ve come to expect from Nolan. From bungee jumping up a building, to the first fight with an inverted human, to a plane barreling through a parking lot into a building, and finally to an intense car chase sequence, Tenet is loaded with action. Many of the scenes left me curious as to how they were made, which always bodes well with my overall enjoyment. Overall this is a challenge moving to understand on the first go, but an enjoyable one nonetheless.
BEWARE: SPOILERS AHEAD!!
By now you are probably aware that Tenet involves time travel to some degree. Time travel is such a challenge to do well in a manner that the audience is intended to take seriously. However, I do think Tenet navigates the challenges pretty well. There is a scene of exposition early on where some explains the concept of inversion to our many character who goes by the name The Protagonist and is played by John David Washington. I didn’t feel like I understood the concept at that point, but it turned into more of a learn as we go kind of journey for me.
At some point you find out that people can be inverted, essential sending them to experience time in reverse until they re-invert. The inversion process is just some kind of machine. We don’t know why it works…but it does. Some of the same scenes we saw earlier in the movie are now replayed but like sort of in reverse, depending on what point of view you are in.
The finale of the movie is very interesting . It almost feels like you drop into the finale all-of-a-sudden and you don’t know what you are doing there. Maybe there was some explanation that I just didn’t pick up on, but I don’t think so. You are just thrown into this final battle sequence with a lot of questions.
The last thing I wanted to mention is the score. The composition is done by Ludwig Goransson (The Mandalorian) and it is much of a character in Tenet as any of our leads. When the based thundered into my chest it was a sign of an intense suspenseful moment. When the tempo picked up and the notes ascended in frequency you could tell it was about to be a fast-paced action sequence. The only complaint I have is that sometimes the score became so prominent that it drowned up the dialogue a little bit, something Nolan movies have had issues with in the past. Overall though the score was fantastic.
As I stated previously, I am going to need to see this one again. I spent a good third of the movie without a clue as to what was happening, yet still enjoying the masterful piece of filmmaking that was in front of me. Once pieces started to fall into place the movie became much more enjoyable. At this point, I would probably either find this movie just outside of my top 5 Christopher Nolan films, or at number 5 exactly. Pending a second viewing, I can’t call this an elite level all-around film, but it has room to get there in my mind.