I’ve been sitting on this for a while and the more I think about Tenet, the more I find myself trying to justify this being a good movie. Technically this is a very good movie, story wise everything falls apart due to the fact that it’s never made clear what is happening and what the rules of this universe is.
Tenet is a film about an unnamed CIA agent (John David Washington) in the middle of a dangerous SWAT operation at a Kiev opera house. The character known simply as “the protagonist” rescues an exposed spy and captures a strange artifact. After the mission is confirmed to be a test, the protagonist discovers that the true mission is to prevent the sale of a strange new weapon that inverts bullets into its victims by moving backwards through time. The protagonist must investigate the group behind the weapon called Tenet to figure out who they are and how they are getting access to the weapon. The deeper the protagonist gets into his mission, the stranger things become to the point he begins to question his own reality.
Tenet is one of the most utterly confusing film in quite some time, even by Christopher Nolan’s standards. I made two mistakes before watching this film. One, I watched Inception a mere days before it’s release and two, I had the film spoiled for me early on.
Even knowing what is going to happen, it is hard to understand what is actually happening. The plot is complex and in many ways too complex for its own good. The story consists of characters having the ability to move backwards in time while everything else moves forwards.
This inversion plays with elements of time travel and parallel universes but doesn’t clarify the rules of it’s universe enough to make sense. The main character is a person the film purposely doesn’t name for the sake of the plot, but this creates a story that is devoid of emotion. Washington is too mysterious for his own good and the only true interaction he has with the world is an odd pseudo-relationship with Elizabeth Debicki that never crosses the threshold of believablity.
The film does have a great stunt where they crash a real 747 plane into a terminal which would also explain the film’s massive budget. But it is too hard to ignore elements of the story that feel like it tries to be smarter than it is.
When you compare this film to Nolan’s other feats like Dark Knight, Inception, or Dunkirk; the gap in quality is undeniable.