Tenet review: Wibbly wobbly timey wimey Nolan adventure

Oh boy this one’s going to be difficult to talk about. Do you ever look at things like space travel, or the Boston Dynamic robots, or black holes and think “wow, this sure is enthralling, I just wish I understood it better”? If so, Tenet is the movie for you. Or maybe not.

If you’ve read anything about Christopher Nolan’s new movie, or watched some of the official trailers embedded on this page, you may be clued into the massive mystery box that he’s created.

From this, and without spoiling anything, you can glean that some kind of world-ending scenario is taking place, and it’s up to the characters in Tenet to stop it. This isn’t your everyday nuclear holocaust, but something involving time travel.. or the breakdown of time… or the non-linear experience of time.

Something to that effect really, as long as you know that things are going to be weird and you will likely need some YouTube essays and graphs to explain everything at some point.

Having seen all of Tenet we can now report on Nolan’s success or failure with this lofty experience, and if you’ll struggle to keep up with its premise and story.

Again shown in the trailers and before release, our protagonist and point of view character is a CIA agent played by John David Washington, who is recruited into the role of saving the world.

As you may expect from this type of movie and Nolan’s past work, this character, and the audience, will be exposit-ed upon by just about every new character that is introduced. Very quickly Tenet falls into a routine of action scene, exposition dump, repeat.

Unfortunately we found ourselves a bit lost part of the way in. This is half because of the complexity of what’s happening (especially in the second act onward) and half because of bad sound mixing.

Audio problems, particularly clear dialogue, seems to be a Nolan movie curse. This has been reported by other outlets and early movie goers, and we can again confirm it. In many scenes it’s just about impossible to make out what characters are saying to each other. God forbid the scene should include extra audio to interfere with it, such as a particularly bad scene on a racing yacht.

With everything going on in this movie it’s like a professor on a Zoom call trying to explain a difficult class on a dialup internet connection. Sure you got the gist of things thanks to the few moments of clear audio, but a lot of the nuance is lost.

Most people going into any piece of media involving time shenanigans usually accept, at some point, to put some hangups aside and just enjoy the ride. Unfortunately for Tenet this problem is compounded by the audio.

On the other side of things the rest of Tenet is so enjoyable that the irritation of complexity and dialogue audio problems melts away a bit and you just sit back to appreciate the sheer spectacle of things.

The practical and special effects here are truly stunning. Again this is expected of a Nolan title, but there’s just that extra polish on display here. The scenes which marry some aspects going forwards in time, and others in reverse, are spectacular.

Making these all the better is the superb music. Thankfully for the soundtrack the audio issues around dialogue don’t affect it and you can really enjoy what’s on offer. There are multiple scenes and sequences in this movie where you can really feel that the utmost care and attention went into every frame to marry the music and visuals together.

The main Tenet theme which you can hear in parts of the trailers is an instant classic and the rest of the OST is a marvel.

The last piece of the puzzle here is the acting and while it’s safe to say everyone did a great job here, that statement does have some caveats.

Cheesy writing for Washington’s character, as well as big bad Andrei Sator (played by Kenneth Branagh) really hampered these two especially. Washington comes across as pallid, and Branagh is too cartoonishly evil at points.

The best combination of script and performance here is Robert Pattinson’s character Neil. Every time he was on screen was a treat and, of all things, it’s got us even more excited to see him as Batman in the future. Without saying too much Neil could be considered the heart of this movie and we think people will be speaking about him when a wider release of this movie happens.

For those keeping score Tenet’s story is followable but convoluted, the audio mixing is a nightmare for dialogue but the music is great, and the acting is commendable with a few sore spots. The action sequences, of which there are many, are polished to a mirror shine and we can’t think of any way to fault them.

As a package then, Tenet may be Nolan’s next masterpiece on par with his other hits, but that will depend entirely on the reception to this insane plot and premise, and if those audio issues kneecap things entirely.


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