Christopher Nolan has his Dark Knight trilogy, and I guess I have my trilogy of articles where I complain about Tenet starring Robert Pattinson and John David Washington. I recently saw the director’s latest film now that it finally came home, and while I understand why some people, like our own Sean O’ Connell, adored the movie, I can equally understand why some people can’t stand it. And I especially understand since I can’t stand it.
I can certainly admire how Christopher Nolan has pretty much created the most expensive cerebral movie in history, but I also feel that said cerebral movie should actually be enjoyable. And I did not enjoy Tenet. Like, at all. I am happy that it’s finally streaming so that more people can form an opinion on it, but my opinion is that it wasn’t worth the wait. There are a number of reasons why I feel this way, but here are the five biggest issues that I had with the film. Feel free to tell me in the comments section below that I “just didn’t get it” once you finish reading the article. Oh, and there will be spoilers up ahead. Just so you know.
I Didn’t Care About A Single Character In This Movie. Not A One
I love Robert Pattinson. I love Kenneth Branagh. And I’m excited to see where BlacKkKlansman’s John David Washington’s career goes next. But I did not care one iota about any of their characters in this movie. I think it’s because none of them have any interesting motivations for why they do the things that they do.
Take John David Washington’s character, The Protagonist (Oh, brother) for instance. I like the whole “ignorance is our ammunition” stuff where his character ends up creating Tenet in the future without realizing it in the present, but I also don’t care. And it’s mainly because his character isn’t given any sort of backstory to latch onto. I know this is intentional, but it also kind of sucks. Or what about Robert Pattinson’s character, Neil? What’s his deal? You know what? I have no idea. Christopher Nolan didn’t seem to think it was important to fill us in, so why should I care? I mean, even Elizabeth Debicki’s character, Kat, whose sole motivation is to protect her son, doesn’t really resonate with me since she barely interacts with him, so again, why should I care? The answer is, I don’t, which is a huge problem.
The Sound Quality Is Really As Bad As People Say
Since I have kids, I typically watch movies with subtitles. This is because I watch flicks late at night, and I don’t want to wake them up, so I typically have the sound really low and just read my movies. But being that this was the holidays, I actually had time to watch a movie during the day time. So, I wanted to experience Tenet as if I was at the movie theater, which means no subtitles. Well, I tried that, and after about 20 minutes, I said, “I have no idea what the hell is going on,” and went back to the beginning of the movie with the subtitles turned on.
A lot of my confusion was because this movie is just so loud, and people are sometimes talking during these loud moments. This is a huge problem since this is a film that DEMANDS you understand everything that’s going on as the time inversion concept is this movie’s biggest selling point. But gee golly whiz, I would have been pissed if I saw this movie in the theater since I wouldn’t even know half of what’s going on. At home, I can thankfully just rewind. But for Nolan to demand that this get a theatrical release, well, the least he could have done is made sure that every line is audible. Because I literally had to rewind several times just to digest some of the concepts in this movie, and that was with subtitles. I couldn’t even imagine watching this film without them.
Exposition, Exposition… And More Exposition
You know what movie I love? Inception. It’s super deep but I could explain the plot in a couple sentences. Here goes: “These dream thieves usually go inside people’s heads to steal ideas, but now, they’re going inside somebody’s head to plant an idea. Pretty cool right?” But how the hell do I explain Tenet? “Well, it’s about time, but not time travel. It’s more like time inversion. What’s that? Well, it deals with entropy. And this guy can go into the past, but he can’t see himself in the present because…and yeah.” The plot is a bit more complex than Inception.
But instead of making it digestible for audiences through action sequences and story beats, Christopher Nolan has instead just put together several sequences where the characters are just talking about time inversion. In the literary world, we call this an info dump. And while the occasional info dump is okay, Tenet goes way overboard with it, and none of these scenes are even remotely interesting. In fact, they bog down the whole movie, which brings me to my next point.
Tenet Is Way Too Long
Tenet is 2 hours and 30 minutes long, and it feels every second of it. From the very first scene, I was bored. I don’t know why, since the opera house scene should have been exciting, but it just wasn’t. It makes me think back to that great intro in The Dark Knight with the bank robbery, or that phenomenal intro in The Dark Knight Rises with the plane hijacking. Both beginnings were thoroughly engaging.
And this intro had all the hallmarks of greatness. But what followed was just a slog. I was never invested in anything that followed, and the movie isn’t quick enough to at least make me feel like I wasn’t wasting my time watching it. Instead, I kept wondering when it would ever end. And that’s probably because of my final point.
The Concept Gets In The Way Of Storytelling
Here’s the thing about Tenet. If you don’t buy into its concept, then the movie is completely lost on you. And while I didn’t understand all of it, I don’t think that was the issue. For instance, I love medical dramas, but I only know a fraction of what the characters are talking about. I don’t really need to know medical jargon to enjoy a medical drama since it’s all about character interactions. Not the medicine. But with Tenet, it’s all about time inversion, and I don’t care about time inversion. It just doesn’t interest me.
And that’s a shame, too, since I enjoy time travel stories. I love Primer, which is also quite complex, and I even love loosey-goosey time travel stories, like The Terminator. But I don’t like Tenet, and it’s because the storytelling (character interaction, plot, etc) takes a backseat to the concept of time inversion, and it shouldn’t. The storytelling should always come first, and it doesn’t with Tenet, which is why it ultimately fails.
But what do you think? I know Tenet has its fans, and I wanted to be one of them. But I don’t like this movie, and no, I don’t want to watch it again. It should have piqued my interest the first time around. I’d love to hear your opinions in the poll or in the comments section, though. And if you didn’t like this article, well, all I can say is, “Don’t try to understand it. Feel it.” See? I was paying attention. Just because I hated it doesn’t mean I wasn’t listening.
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Rich is a Jersey boy, through and through. He graduated from Rutgers University (Go, R.U.!), and thinks the Garden State is the best state in the country. That said, he’ll take Chicago Deep Dish pizza over a New York slice any day of the week. Don’t hate. When he’s not watching his two kids, he’s usually working on a novel, watching vintage movies, or reading some obscure book.