"I'll just get my gear."

Tenet

I like Christopher Nolan’s movies. So, had things gone reasonably in the world, Christopher Nolan’s TENET by Christopher Nolan is a movie that I for sure would’ve seen right away in a theater. But… you know. So I didn’t.

Now, after having played some theaters in some parts of the world where some people think it’s safe to go to theaters, with months having passed since the professionals moved on to other topics, many seemingly unimpressed, TENET is on blu-ray, so I have seen it. And I will just say up front that I am very pro TENET. I really enjoyed it. People around these parts call me Bad Lou TENET, Port of Call This Movie Is Great.

First, let me start by pointing out that this entire review has been written as a palindrome. I’m just kidding. I could do it for sure, I know how, but I don’t want to show off. Christopher Nolan, however, has zero qualms about showing off, and I love him for it.

I love that combination of hyper-intelligent overthinking and flashy pop thrills. There aren’t many directors who would spend 20 years carefully constructing a screenplay full of puzzles and palindromes, and also do an action scene that requires driving a real jumbo jet through the side of a building, and have them be the same movie. This one reminds me most of INCEPTION, but also quite a bit of DARK KNIGHT, but seeming slightly less self-serious than either, which is not something I would’ve requested, but it’s kinda nice. If Nolan wants to make some grand statement in a cool movie I’m all for it, but also if he realizes that he can just make a cool movie and we’re gonna be able to appreciate it and say “it’s backwards!” and don’t mind that we’re not saying “mostly, of course, it’s about grief and trauma” or some shit like that, that’s a good lesson for him to learn, I think.

I heard somewhere that this is Nolan’s version of a James Bond movie, and even though it’s very much a sci-fi film I think that describes its spirit pretty well. It has the intrigue, the international on-location shooting, the large scale action, and the unflappable hero who looks great in suits. John David Washington (BLACKKKLANSMAN, THE OLD MAN & THE GUN) plays a secret agent, first for the CIA. After proving his loyalty by going to spectacular lengths to swallow a (it turns out fake) suicide pill, he’s officially considered dead and is recruited to an ambiguous, maybe international, not even necessarily governmental (?) agency called Tenet. Unlike 007 he doesn’t even get a number; only because I had the subtitles on did I realize they never say his name, so he’s generically referred to as “Protagonist.” (There’s something meta about this – characters talk more than once about protagonists and antagonists, but I don’t think there’s anything deep about it.)

Tenet don’t have some known palindromic rival organization like Racecar or Top Spot or UFO Tofu or something. Their opponent is some unknown entity in the future manufacturing “inverted bullets” – their molecular structure (or whatever) reversed so that they travel backwards in time. They unfire from bullet holes back into guns. And once you understand that those exist you can believe that their proliferation in the present is fucking up our reality in such a way that we, in our capacity as the future’s past, could be completely erased.

When scientist Barbara (Clemence Poesy, IN BRUGES, 127 HOURS) is explaining and demonstrating this stuff to John T. Protagonist she says, “Don’t try to understand it. Feel it.” I like that because I remembered it throughout the movie whenever I couldn’t really grasp how the backwards shit works. There are fights, car chases and shootouts where the participants are progressing through time in opposite directions. So gravity works differently for one guy than it does the guy he’s fighting or chasing. Some explosions and gun shots and car crashes are in reverse. And sometimes we revisit the same events going the other direction and it flips. How the fuck does that work? I don’t know. I don’t understand it. But I feel it. And it feels cool.

The story is normal spy intrigue/investigation type stuff, with Protagonist following the trail of the bullets through an arms dealer (Dimple Kapadia, DABANGG 3), an art forger (Elizabeth Debicki, WIDOWS) and her abusive Russian oligarch husband (Kenneth Branagh, KENNETH BRANAGH IS MARY SHELLEY’S HUNKY FRANKENSTEIN). He starts to grow protective of the forger, though it does not turn into a love story as it would if it was a Bond movie. This is tricky because on one hand when the story goes this way you gotta wonder if somebody was uncomfortable showing a white woman with a Black man. On the other hand it’s such a cliche for the lead to fall in love every god damn time he has an adventure and most of the time it feels way more perfunctory than romantic, so this is the preferable approach in my opinion.

The most James Bond aspect is that Protagonist can handle pretty much any crazy shit that gets thrown at him, stay cool and even keep a sense of humor about it. He has a ton of funny smart ass lines that he delivers dryly enough to come across as a confident guy mocking his foes rather than a quipster taking this shit too lightly.

To me Washington doesn’t look much like his dad, Denzel, which is lucky for him – it avoids comparisons to the point that I’m sure some people don’t even know they’re related. But often he’ll say something, or give a look, or he’ll walk like Denzel, and I like those little reminders. So this is the closest we’ll get to Denzel playing James Bond. For now.

Equally as cool as Protagonist is Sidekick, played by Robert Pattinson from the Cronenberg movies. Okay, actually this character is named Neil, but few movies are perfect. Neil reminds me of Tom Hardy’s character in INCEPTION – the witty, arrogant colleague who can totally be counted on. It’s so fun to have capable characters like this and just know they’re on the team and not have to worry about if they’re secretly a traitor or something. Set up as Neil’s contact, he would fit right into the OCEAN’S movies because you can pretty much give him any problem and he’ll have both the most audacious idea possible for how to approach it and the tremendous resources required to pull it off. For example, when he needs to break into a place he quickly decides to crash that 747 into it, and he knows exactly the guy to do it (Himesh Patel, YESTERDAY).

Based on this one viewing I don’t think I like TENET quite as much as INCEPTION (which, admittedly has had the advantage of repeat viewings). But one cool thing I think it has over all the other Nolan movies is an impressive ratio of thrilling-set-piece to in-between-stuff, especially considering the convoluted concepts that require explanation. There’s a rhythm to it, I never felt like there wasn’t enough time to breathe, but it also feels like the movie is mostly made up of missions and raids and heists. And those are what Nolan is best at. His filmatism makes you high. The opening raid on an opera house unfolds much like the Joker’s bank robbery in DARK KNIGHT, except you have no idea yet who these people are or what they’re up to. But again, you don’t need to understand it. You feel it. He makes you feel it.

The hand-to-hand fights in Nolan’s Batman movies often incorporated a disorienting style that worked well enough for the story but lacked the punch of his great vehicle action sequences. So it’s really cool how much clarity there is in the fights here, even while having to incorporate the complex reverse gimmicks. The fight coordinator is Jackson Spidell, who doubled Keanu in all three JOHN WICK movies.

But, as usual with his movies, I think the best action sequence is car related. I don’t know if they built their own freeway like the Wachowskis did for THE MATRIX RELOADED, but it sure seemed like they did. And they’re doing stuff that, when you think about it, could be in a FAST movie (it involves transferring from one vehicle to another), but it has a completely different weight to it. You’re very aware that landing on a car will not break your fall.

Here are the actors I didn’t recognize: Aaron Taylor-Johnson (KICK-ASS, SAVAGES, GODZILLA) and Fiona Dourif (CURSE OF CHUCKY, CULT OF CHUCKY). They both play soldiers wearing tactical gear, so they don’t look like individuals. They’re good characters, though. I did recognize Martin Donovan (THE OPPOSITE OF SEX, SABOTAGE), who plays the CIA boss. Interestingly, Nolan forgot that he’d directed Donovan in INSOMNIA and instead cast him on the basis of his work in AGENT CODY BANKS [citation needed].

The score is by the great Ludwig Goransson (CREED, BLACK PANTHER, The Mandalorian), but sounds to me more like the style of Nolan’s usual composer, Hans Zimmer. That seemed to me like kind of a waste of Goransson, but then I read that he created melodies that sound the same backwards as they do forwards, so obviously he wasn’t phoning it in.

Nolan also has a new editor, Jennifer Lame, best known for Noah Baumbach’s movies, plus MANCHESTER BY THE SEA and HEREDITARY.

They all do good work. It will be exciting to see more of it on the big screen again, I hope, some day. Fingers crossed.

This entry was posted on Thursday, December 31st, 2020 at 11:20 am and is filed under Action, Reviews, Science Fiction and Space Shit, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

26 Responses to “Tenet”

  1. SPOILERS:

    I saw this at the drive-in back in September– just me alone in the car– and had nobody to talk to about it. So here is my Grand Unifying Theory of Tenet:

    This is a literalization of Dan Harmon’s story circle. Or, since I have no idea if Nolan is a big Community fan, drawn from the same Joseph Campbell well. But the circular nature of the hero’s journey fits the actual plot of Tenet. I can’t say the film hits every single point on the journey, but I twigged to this idea when I realized our main character was only ever called The Protagonist– a meta wink at the fact that he’s the lead character in our screenplay, the hero in the journey. Because the monomyth is basically a palindrome.

    In short, Harmon’s take goes: 1. A character is in a zone of comfort; 2. But they want something; 3. They enter an unfamiliar situation; 4. Adapt to it; 5. Get what they wanted; 6. Pay a heavy price for it; 7. Then return to their familiar situation; 8. Having changed. Campbell’s hero’s journey has more steps, but basically it’s departure (call to adventure, refusal of call, crossing of threshold), initiation (trials, meeting with the goddess and/or temptress, atonement with the father, apotheosis), and return (escape/rescue, more threshold crossing, etc.).

    So our Protagonist is a spy, who finds himself initiated into the secret group, learns about inversion, takes on the mission, becomes involved with Elizabeth Debicki, literally journeys back in time to the beginning of the story, is rescued by and loses his friend, gets the macguffin, and finds himself back where he began— only this time, he’s in place to send his past self on the journey he just went through. From Protagonist to Writer. From a story structure perspective, it’s great, even if thinking too hard about the details of inversion makes one cross-eyed.

    I do like the idea of our enemies being our own future. We’re screwing up the world so bad that future generations have no choice but to go back in time and kill us. It’s cynical as hell, but there’s hope for some of us in the present. And there’s some good stuff in there about the nature of free will vs. fate. The bullet was always fired, because we choose to fire it. The past isn’t dead, it isn’t even past, etc.

    My one complaint with the movie is that our Protagonist, by nature of his generic name and place in the story, doesn’t feel like much of a character. He’s going along with the whole thing because he’s the good guy, but he doesn’t get the motivation of Leo in Inception or Matthew in Interstellar, the exploration of Bruce Wayne when he Began, the interiority of Guy in Memento, etc. He’s a little blanker, more of a cipher than those guys. Maybe a rewatch would correct this for me. Even just for the plot, it’s a movie which demands to be viewed multiple times. Elizabeth Debicki’s character picks up a lot of that slack. Maybe she’s the real protagonist here. She follows much of the same Campbellian path, with the goal of achieving her own agency, something she previously only admired from afar.

    :SRELIOPS

  2. It was fine. Very rough around the edges and terrible at explaining its own story without a hand wave of “don’t think it, feel it.”

    What I’m trying to say is, I enjoyed Bloodshot immensely more than this. Maybe it’s time for Nolan to hook up with Diesel.

  3. Doctor, I strongly disagree with every word of your post except for all of them in the last sentence, which is arguably the most important point ever made in this forum.

  4. I liked this quite a bit when I saw it a few months ago, and never had the trouble some talked about with the sound mix. (maybe an effect of seeing it, like Bill, at the drive-in! kind of funny knowing Nolan had sweated every detail of film stock, score, etc and then seeing it on a beach chair with planes occasionally flying low overhead)

    This will stay in second-tier Nolan for me, just due to the fact that unlike DUNKIRK and INCEPTION, both of which I love, there were times in this I couldn’t figure out what was happening – primarily SRELIOPS during the car chase when the inverted folks show up and then when you see Protagonist go through the whole thing inverted himself, and in the big “temporal pincer movement” military assault at the end. It didn’t bother me too much at the time, it just felt like “woah what a crazy and disorienting event I’m watching”. Of course it would be hard to understand! But INCEPTION and DUNKIRK both strike for me the perfect balance between disorientation and clarity – in both of those I can understand what I’m watching clearly enough to really feel the micro twists and turns along the way, and that was true the first time I saw each. And MEMENTO was similarly disorienting+crystal clear when I saw it way back when it was first in theaters. So I have pretty high expectations of what Nolan can pull off in this type of scenario, just knowing what the dude is capable of at his peak. TENET didn’t have that for me, except for few individual moments – the inverted Branagh interrogating the good guys after the first time we go through the car chase, and the Protagonist and Neal running inverted into the art storage facility and going back through the crazy-ass fight scene we’d seen earlier. It might have been obvious to everyone else but it didn’t hit me until the moment before the fight started the second time that Protag had been fighting himself “earlier”; I feel like the movie led me to put it together in just enough time to have a moment of a sublime “holy shit that was him before!” reaction. Good stuff! end SPOILERS

  5. Dudes…dudes, I figured out Neil’s character. SPOILERS. You spell his name backwards, you get LIEN. A lien is a right to keep possession of property belonging to another person until a debt owed by that person is discharged. Neil literally owes Protagonist his reversed life and pays that debt back to him in the end. I don’t know what the thing is that Neil has of Protagonists other than the life debt and knowledge of his favorite drink but its there. I know it is.

    This is for sure a movie I need to re-watch. Parts of it were so goddamn cool. The kitchen fight (what is it about awesome kitchen fights?), the reverse car chase, the reverse interrogation, etc, etc. But so much of it was overly bonkers that I wish it was a bit longer, too. I wanted more of a step up into the world of the larger Tenet organization. They go from the Bond and buddy to a full on army pretty quickly and it was kind of jarring. And while i know what they were doing in the end (a repeat of the pincer move…attacking a problem from before and after it happens/happened, I didn’t quite figure out who GI Joe guys were fighting or why after a small-scale heist story turned into Full Metal Jacket.

    Still, the cool shit outweighed the lack of clarity and was fun so that is what i needed.

    Also agree that Washington looks nothing like his dad but sounds almost EXACTLY like his dad in some parts, like inflection and all. It was wild.

  6. Can someone explain to me the Blue/Red Team thing?

    I know Blue Team is the one inverting going backwards in time? But how does that help the assault? Do they warn Red Team of any possible traps?

  7. I love Nolan. Inception I believe is some kind of peak for “non franchise – big budget – original concept” filmmaking. So I had VERY high hopes for this one. Even went to the cinema in the middle of a pandemic for it.
    Was underwhelmed. And went AGAIN a second time so that maybe the second viewing would change my feelings. No such luck. The story is too convoluted and high minded for its own good. Inception was supposedly complex but you could follow it to a t easily. This was artificially made “complex” and coupled with the absence of ANY real emotional stakes for anyone, it left me totally cold to it.

    In inception you grasp Di Caprio’s need to see his kids and also his immense guilt for the death of his wife.

    In memento you sympathize for the poor guy, his affliction and his quest to find the killer.

    Those are supposed to be Nolan’s “headscratchers” and you can follow both EASILY.

    Tenet is the first Nolan movie I didn’t like. And I REALLY tried guys. Paid twice for it too.

  8. I did see this in the cinema back in the summer, and whether it was the acoustics of that particular auditorium or the movie’s sound mix, I could not make out what the characters were talking about at any given time. The movie was obviously confusing enough, so pretty much from beginning to end I had absolutely no idea what was going on. It looked gorgeous, but I had no idea what was happening.

    Even if I had been able to follow the plot, I doubt I would’ve felt much authenticity to the relationships between the characters. I kind of felt the same thing about INCEPTION – just because a bunch of characters are thrown together and go through some adventures, it doesn’t automatically lead to genuine chemistry. Same with this – I felt I was supposed to buy into friendships that to me didn’t feel earned.

    I had the choice of this or BLOODSHOT when I plunked down my money at the box office, and I kind of wish I’d gone for the latter.

  9. How was the sound in this one? I find Nolan’s scores to be overbearing and annoying, even in THE DARK KNIGHT which is probably my favorite of his, and just wish he could drop the score entirely for large sections of the movie and let dialog speak for itself. Instead it’s that infinitely rising tension building sound trick for 5 minutes straight, drowning out the actors.

    And how is the exposition? This sounds a lot like INCEPTION in its high concept ideas and action heavily based on semi-complex movie physics that needs to be explained to the audience. But this is why I find INCEPTION just so-so at best and frustrating at times, it’s just got so much heavy handed exposition (accompanied usually by a heavy-handed score…). I would rather be confused for a few minutes and not understand what is going on, and figure it out myself in an ah-ha moment which can be very rewarding, than have an expo dump first and then watch it play out. Even if they throw in a little twist or two, it is just not fun. Show, don’t tell, etc.

  10. I live like 10 kilometres from the freeway where they shot the most chases and on one day while visiting nearby supermarket I saw cars moving backwards and some crashes too.
    Nolan and Co got the permission from the town council (Tallinn, Estonia) to shut down usually-pretty-busy highway during the summer of 2019 and they also received pretty nice cashback (5 or 6 millions) to shoot the film in Estonia.
    And opening scene also took place in Tallinn (not Kiev) and I know many people who acted as extras throughout the movie – pretty solid experience for them.

  11. Here’s what I thought, told through experience
    I saw it at the show in Istanbul. 4 people in the theater.
    1st third of the movie was pretty awesome and then it got really loud and confusing. With about 30 minutes left in the movie the power to the whole city block went out and we had to go home and I felt good.

  12. Happy new year folks, I hope in these trying and difficult times you managed to celebrate the end of the most upside down year the world had seen in decades (2021 has to be better, although I do like the mad max or bust idea)

    @ felix

    I think the plan was for the red team to fail to complete the task to (MILD SPOILER) stop the algorithm from being activated.

    Then the blue team would run backwards from then, the end of the battle. back to the start of the assault (by the red team)

    Then knowing exactly how the battle went and the outcome. They can then plan how to ‘counter’ this and then send the red team into the fight, knowing how to ‘change the future’ (and the blue team will still run the battle again, going backwards in time and providing another briefing/update on the new outcome or changes. Before the battle begins).

    After all, as mentioned a few times as a theme is ‘what has happened, happened’

    The 2 points that occurred to me during this

    1. This exact same thing happened during the car chase/snatch sequence in Tallinn. Sator asks for reports and updates on the car chase as it happens. And for these to be ‘exact’. So he can then use that knowledge to change the outcome (find the contents of the case, get involved in the car chase, knowing that the bmw is ‘empty’ at the end)

    2. The briefing by Ives and that he and Neil may have a few different versions of themselves running around on the battlefield (all from the future using their knowledge of the result to make changes, or sacrifices)

    I really liked this movie more the second time (both in the cinema which was almost completely empty and felt not only super safe, but felt like a little slice of a more ‘normal’ life). It was then I just went with the movies advice to ‘feel it’ and not over think things. After that, the movie made much more sense and stopped hurting my head so much

    And yes, it felt like this exists in the Inception universe (if not an almost sequel)

  13. Really liked this, particularly John David Washington, who cool as he appeared, was willing to ask for help (like when Neil showed he was the unlocking master) and to be baffled (his expression when Clemence Poesy is explaining inversion is priceless), but to be absolutely in control when in his comfort zone of badass spying. I suspect his background in football helped, because he seemed expertly physical from the off. Also thought Neil was fantastic – could have been Eames from INCEPTION, and so blase he was obviously in on it.

    A thought I had – probably obvious to everyone else – was that ‘The Protagonist’ appears to have no motivation only because his character’s motivation is entirely in the future, and it’s his future self (who we never see) driving it, so the version of him we do see will always appear a bit underdeveloped.

    I also liked the inversion idea, i.e., you don’t so much travel backwards in time as much as you sort of continue to travel forwards but in the opposite direction to everything else. Crazy.

  14. … I did find myself wondering about the initial “Feel it” demonstration with the inverted bullet, and how the Teneteers actually organized that. I have the image of the scientist looking at her calendar and making a note to remind her future self to invert a loaded gun to use as such-and-such date and time. So maybe they have a little mini turnstile just for demo guns? I suppose they could use something other than a gun to demonstrate inversion. “You see these two toasters? One is traveling forward in time…”

    Feels like you could sum up TENET as “James Bond but in the world of PRIMER”. Could this be the next “Die Hard” convention for generating movie descriptions, as in “Die Hard, but on/in [insert location]”. “It’s PRIMER, but in the White House” “PRIMER, but in the Middle Ages” “PRIMER on a bus that will explode if it goes below 55”

    In short, I really liked PRIMER and I hope TENET sends more viewers down that particular movie’s weird rabbit hole.

  15. Nolan’s filmatism is as impeccable as ever. I watched it twice in the cinemas (once on IMAX) during that brief window when cinemas in Malaysia re-opened and this is truly a film meant to be seen on the widest possible screen lovingly crafted by an auteur still in love with the medium.

    But TENET is where Nolan’s particular brand of mind-fuckery finally over-reaches itself.

    With INCEPTION and INTERSTELLAR, you get the sense watching it where you’re not quire sure of the entire nuts and bolts of the plot mechanism but are at least sufficiently clued in to the broader picture to enjoy the film, while subsequent re-watches would help you understand the minutiae of it’s storyline.

    With TENET, after a point (for me it would be the direct aftermath of the Talinn hijack) you can’t even make sense of the larger picture which impedes the overall enjoyment of the film.

    So there’s reverse Branagh in the Blue Room interrogating JDW in the Red room…then wait not-reverse Branagh is in the red room, then reverse Branagh again interrogates JDW…wait it’s now from his perspective…then JDW inverts himself….

    When you’re at least 10 minutes behind the latest exposition dump following another piece of the puzzle introduced in Nolan’s intricate jigsaw, because you’re still trying to decipher 2 prior exposition dumps, the understanding of which is essential to you making sense of this latest one, the fun stops.

    ok…I guess I should have taken Scientist Lady’s advice at the start…Don’t try to understand it…Just feel it.

  16. I wouldn’t have minded the incomprensibility of the inversion sequences if the normal sequences had made sense. I just don’t think that Nolan understands real life or real people.

    The whole thing about this slick art dealer woman, who hates her husband, and he has a forged painting that she sold him without knowing that it was forged…
    that he now holds over her head, and Mr. Protagonist tells her that he can get it but it is in a facility with literally unimaginable security…
    that happens also to have the big metal revolving door inversion machine but never mind that…
    but Mr. Protagonist is going to steal a forged painting from this sci-fi level high tech place because that will solve the whole blackmail problem for this lady…
    So to steal a painting, he crashes a plane into the first 20 feet of this massive facility and dumps gold bars all over the runway because the stakes are that he will steal a forged painting…
    getting that painting will free her from her husband’s blackmail scheme…
    and he’s going to crash a plane into a building because that will be a way for him to steal a painting?
    and ALL of that is just so she will introduce him to her husband. So, crashing a plane = getting an introduction.

    All of that, that whole idea, is meaningless. Only a man who does nothing but play video games all day could be this detached from reality or how people interact with each other or how relationships work.

    The twin sequence to this set piece is the scene with the husband and wife on the boat at the end. It’s the twin because again, it has no relation to real people or relationships or how things work. The logic of the inversion element is incomprehensible here, but also the idea that the husband went back to this moment because it was special to him even though the wife remembers it as the moment where her hatred for him became unlivable just makes the whole thing one big “why, why is any of this specific scene even happening at all?”

  17. The Undefeated Gaul

    January 5th, 2021 at 2:48 pm

    Thomas – honestly, I didn’t like TENET at all – it was gripping to a point while I was still convinced it would take me somewhere and in the end it would all make sense, then massively pissed me off when it turns out there is nothing there, it’s all just nonsense – but you’re making it sound like a lot more fun than it was! The type of nonsense you’re describing I can live with. Crashing a plane just to steal a painting just to get an introduction? That’s fantastic. What I couldn’t live with was the fact the whole inversion thing didn’t have a shred of logic to it and so I couldn’t connect with anything happening in the film, gorgeous though it was to look at.

  18. Thomas, hopefully this isn’t patronising(!) but the plane crash was not just to steal the painting. The good guys knew Sator was in receipt of inverted technology, and they knew he made many trips to the Freeport, more than they expected he would take just to look at a painting he knew was fake, so they deduced that his method of getting the tech was linked to the Freeport. Also, Neil would know about the turnstile there, without ever mentioning it.

  19. Because of the mixed reviews I came into this movie expecting a mess on the level of Interstellar, which is Nolan’s worst film. But, man, I fucking loved this thing. On the one hand, I get some of the criticism. It was hard to follow, and I definitely am not certain I wrapped my head around everything. And I’m not sure a second viewing would necessarily cure me of that confusion.

    But everything looked so damn cool. I mean, Nolan gives us a big movie spectacle unlike anything we’ve seen before, and we’re sitting here arguing about things like “coherent plot” and “character.” Who cares? I firmly believe that plot and character are not essential elements in movies. If the moving image is interesting enough, then I could absolutely do without either plot or character. So maybe the plot is confusing. But shit looked cool.

    And I actually really liked that Protagonist didn’t have a backstory. I’m done with backstories in movies. At this point, they seem absolutely perfunctory. All we need to know about Protagonist, we learn from his actions. He’s someone willing to sacrifice his own life for what he perceives as the greater good. He’s suave when he needs to be. And he’s got a soft spot for tall women. That’s all I need.

    So, yeah, Tenet might not be perfect, but I had an absolute blast with it.

  20. See, I thought the plot made total sense but the spectacle was weak. It’s perfectly entertaining as a fast, light thriller but when it’s over you realize Nolan didn’t do a single interesting thing with his central gimmick. He spent all this time setting up this backwards action concept and then the best he can come up with is a fight scene with a couple weird backflips and some cars that drive backwards. The fun part should have been seeing the many ways the inverted objects and people could be used to cause/get out of trouble, but it turns out shooting bullets backwards is not all that useful in an actual firefight type situation. Half the soldiers in that big battle at the end are going backwards and for the life of me I couldn’t tell you which was which. They say they’re going to run the final battle through twice so they’ll be able to use what they learn to their advantage, but they never show any of that. We just follow our main characters, who have none of that foreknowledge. I can’t help but think of what a director who’s actually interested in action could have done with this setup. Sam Raimi would have had 50 genius gags in that climax. Nolan has a dead guy get up and unlock a door. Kind of underwhelming.

    Like, he fucking threw an entire actual jumbo jet at a building and then didn’t even show it to us in reverse. How am I supposed to trust this guy?

  21. Ok, finally saw this. REALLY wish I saw it in theaters, as I would probably be more forgiving of the terrific action sequences. (Seriously, these were the best his done)

    Couldn’t make a lick of sense of anything that was happening, instantly called that it was Washington fighting himself in Oslo, and the ultimate temporal pincer move makes zero sense if you stop to think about it.

    BUT… I still really dug it. Liked the ideas a lot, love the set pieces, really wish we had a whole movie of Washington and Pattinson as partners in crime on some caper. Not a waste of time (pun intended) but not his best.

    If one is looking for a simpler explanation, its all a fever dream as Protagonist is dying after swallowing the pill. (No way they reconstruct his mouth and he’s fine in under 2 weeks, but movie magic) Plus it follows a lot of globe trotting dream logic.

    Did anyone else feel like Nolan ate a pot brownie and watched Raid 2 (kitchen fight/car chase) and Deja Vu (“time travel car chase, Washington) and dashed off this script?

  22. “when it’s over you realize Nolan didn’t do a single interesting thing with his central gimmick”

    I’ll wait for the RICK & MORTY piss take where you have sex in time inversion and reverse-ejaculate or take a dump and shit gets sucked straight up your asshole

  23. RICK & MORTY makes me physically ill, but their take couldn’t possibly be as dumb as “fire moving backwards in time = ice.”

  24. Majestyk’s take has kind of become the consensus judging from the internet. But I was grinning nearly the entire time. Maybe they can do more with the concept in 2 Tenet 2 [the first two would be inverted on the poster, of course]. But I’m genuinely impressed by the fact that Nolan decided to step up his action game. Even the relatively minor kitchen fight is heads and shoulders above anything he’s done before. And he showed us things I’ve never quite seen in a movie–a man fighting another while moving backwards in time, a crashed car that unwrecks itself and has a briefcase bounced off its hood, and a wall that reconstitutes after an explosion and crushes a dude.

    If there’s a movie out there that plays with backward images in the same way, then I’d love to hear about it. Seriously, I would. Because I would go out and watch that movie right away.

  25. I was consistently engaged by the plot and characters and vibe. It’s a very entertaining movie. I just think that if I worked on a screenplay for 20 years, and I knew it ended in a battle where one army knew exactly what the other side was going to do before they did it, I’d come up with way more interesting action gags than just shooting a backwards rocket one time. It’s a great, pulpy gimmick for physical spectacle that, in my opinion, Nolan almost entirely wastes.

  26. If you want to see Nolan’s very first publicly-shown short, here it is, now up on our sight https://mediaburn.org/video/image-union-1313-halloween-fright/?t=19:01

    It was on an episode of IMAGE UNION, a show that was on our local Chicago PBS station from the late 1970s to the early 1990s. Produced by Tom Weinberg (now the head honcho of Media Burn, ie my boss) and Jamie Cesar, the show was a grab bag of independently produced shorts – documentary, animation, experimental stuff, short narratives, whatever happened to catch their fancy – sent in by film and video makers who wanted their work seen by a largish audience, back when there were far fewer avenues for that than there are presently. In 1990, Nolan’s short TARANTELLA made it onto the air. It hasn’t been available since, so here it is, nice and legal, free for all.

    (Not to turn this into any more of a hype post than it already is, but you could find worse ways to kill a few hours than to check out some of the other episodes of IMAGE UNION, of which we have several dozen on our sight. It’s hard for me to imagine what it must have been like to have encountered this kind of stuff over the free airwaves back in the 1980s.)

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