It felt odd walking into a movie theater for the first time since February. There were no lines, no crowds and a little voice in the back of my head warning me to avoid the snacks and just watch the movie with my mask on and my hands out of my face. Besides my brother and me, there were only about six other people in the audience, and it was awfully quiet inside the theater — that is, until Christopher Nolan’s latest action blockbuster, “Tenet,” started playing.
“Tenet” has been hailed as the film that is going to save the theatergoing experience. Fans of Nolan’s previous films, which include “Dunkirk,” “Inception,” “Interstellar,” and “The Dark Knight” Trilogy, know that his films are jam-packed with blockbuster spectacle, featuring massive action set pieces, sweeping cinematography, a reliance on practical effects over CGI and pulse-pounding, booming musical scores. “Tenet” is no exception. Make no mistake, it’s a film designed to be viewed on the largest and clearest screen possible with the loudest and most powerful sound system known to mankind. However, it’s far from the savior of blockbuster filmmaking.
“Tenet” expresses itself with the brashness and volume of a first-grade bully. Its plot isn’t as complex as it is convoluted, drowning the audience in a whirling sea of exposition and indecipherable jargon until it becomes an impossibly challenging task to just keep track of what’s going on. The audio is also mixed very poorly, prioritizing the soundtrack and background noise over the dialogue of his characters, making an already confusing film nearly incomprehensible. If “Inception” was a puzzle box rewarding those who solved its mysteries, “Tenet” is one of those metal puzzles lying around your grandmother’s house that you solve and then realize you wasted an entire afternoon of your life. So much effort is dedicated to providing massive spectacle and scope that its characters are left in the dust: without personality, without meaning, shamefully wasted on some of the sexiest people on the planet.
Even though it’s a frustrating two-and-a-half-hour mess plotwise, it disguises its tragic shortcomings with some of the most impressive special effects seen in recent years. Even though I had no idea what was going on, the last hour of the film features some of Nolan’s most impressive technical wizardry, disorienting and mesmerizing the senses in an epic finale, the scope of which has to be seen to be believed. It’s mind blowing in a way that even “Inception” never was, and it features some truly grandiose cinematography and fight sequences. Additionally, despite the fact that the characters have less personality than a potato salad, pretty much every single one of them delivers a phenomenal performance, with John David Washington’s protagonist taking the cake.
The decision of whether or not to go see “Tenet” isn’t one that should be made lightly, given that the country is still in the very middle of a pandemic. If blockbuster action on an epic scale mixed with Nolan’s incredible creativity is your cup of tea, you might want to consider going to see it. Just make sure you wear a mask at all times and heavily consider going to a theater in an area with fewer cases. But if you enjoy films with compelling stories (i.e., ones that make sense) and three-dimensional characters, you might want to wait to catch this one on DVD. I know I’ll be rewatching it with subtitles and a remote control in my hand.