Or perhaps it’s teneT, the newest movie from Mr. Original Christopher Nolan. A movie that mixes 007 with Doctor Who. Is this the ultimate time travel/bending movie?
Wooo! I finally got to the movies, when was the last time..? I can’t remember. Nor what I saw, but I’m back in it! And from all appearances the next year or so will be dedicated to relieving the backlog of movies waiting to be smashed onto a projector screen. And I’ve jumped in the deep end too! Seeing Tenet on the biggest screen around. As it was filmed in 70mm, I decided to see it at the IMAX theater. The IMAX theater also has the best and loudest sound system, but that turned out to be a bit of a problem as I’ll explain soon.
So firstly, how to describe the story of Tenet? Well, to do that I have to immediately speak to what’s awesome about Tenet and what’s terrible. It’s the source of its greatest achievement and why, for me, it was a failure. In Tenet the lead CIA man called ‘The Protagonist’ finds himself set on a course of international espionage. A path, we discover, that leads only to another door where a much deeper and darker mystery resides. It’s a battle to use weapons and technology that have been tampered with in the future, that move backwards in time.
These items are now called ‘Inverted’. For example, ‘Inverted’ guns now catch bullets. But then we also learn that almost anything can pass through special ‘Inversion’ machines. Including people. The Protagonist is told (and I guess we the viewers) “Don’t try and understand it, just feel it.”
In Tenet we learn that Inverted weapons and tech have fallen into the wrong hands and it’s up to John David Washington’s character, ‘The Protagonist’ and our heroes to stop them. Yes, there are a few heroes and new ones keep popping up as the movie plays out. The first one is Robert Pattinson who plays Neil. I actually thought I had accidentally fallen asleep for five minutes when he appeared.
That’s when I had my first “Wait, what?” moment (the first of dozens) because he’s not introduced. He’s just there helping. I’m like, “ahh ok, you’re jumping ahead in time – it’s a time thing! You’ll explain and fill in these moments later..” Did they?.. Kinda, I guess. The editing is like this throughout the whole movie, and like the rest of Tenet, it just feels really harsh.
I’ve never had as many of those, “wait, what?” moments before in any movie. And it’s compounded because you’ll be in one of those moments then another will hit before you can resolve the first one. At times I’ll be ‘Inceptioned’ three layers deep into ‘wait, what’ moments (‘Nolaned’? New verb, trademarked!). How am I meant to get invested under that sort of stress? How does one enjoy the rollercoaster when its seat belt has a “how many triangles do you see?” quiz, a question about 18th century geography and a request for the name of your dad’s first dog, all of which need to be solved before you can make it click..?! It’s frustrating as Tenet has some beautiful set pieces!
But let me speak now to the score. Worst score ever? Maybe a little rough but the fact that it Actually. Never. Stops. sure doesn’t help. And it’s so harsh! Several things made it worse. Like I said, IMAX is very loud. Usually I love that, but you’re sitting there like, well that’s five triangles ah-six… And all the while it feels like someone’s banging sheet metal next to your head (damn I sound like my old man now).
A friend who was watching it with me later said, “Yer, did you notice some of the music was like, being played backwards? Ha? Did ya! Did ya notice? Did you notice that!?” Shut up! I was working on ‘Spot the 12 triangles’ – who cares that the sheet metal music was backwards? You don’t impress me, man! Just because you’ve given up on the, ‘wait, what?’ moments, you’ve got no seat belt in sight. You can afford the time to notice stuff like that. Meanwhile, I’m back here doing the heavy lifting, man!
Kenneth Branagh, great actor, he plays the main baddie. But the story really didn’t make him feel like a big threat. He plays a super-rich art dealer who’s really dealing in future ‘Inverted’ tech. He has a small team of thugs around him but, ‘The Protagonist’ wipes the floor with them early on in Tenet without even breaking a sweat, so no threat there! He’s so weak, he actually needs saving at one point because he got pushed off the side of his sailing boat.
In fact, I’ve never seen such a one-sided affair where the good team vastly out numbers and out muscles the bad team. How can there be any tension when you’re never concerned about them achieving their goal? At one point they tell us, the audience, we must do ‘this’ by ‘then’ or it’s all over for everyone! And they miss that goal, but they then just say to each other after. “It was late, but we just figured it out”.. You figured it out!? Good one, well, whew, I guess we can just all get on with our lives now.
It’s frustrating because I do really want to like Tenet. I want it to be lauded for its creativity, its originality. But as I wrote earlier, the awesome idea just cost too much! I heard that because of the way it had to be shot to accommodate the time-bending storyline, the actors really didn’t understand what was happening from one scene to the next. I can appreciate their dilemma. Maybe that’s why it all felt so flat. There’s just so much going on it’s hard to know exactly why I didn’t have an emotional response to anything. Was it mostly one facet or was I just battered from all sides out the door of investment? Part of me wants to watch it again to try and understand why, but most of me wants nothing to do with it ever again.
Maybe I should in a while, because maybe I missed some magic while I was so distracted. Because there is magic here. There was one scene that was particularly memorable where the ‘two’ guys were fighting (you’ll know why I did ‘ ‘ if you watch it). They were together but one was moving forwards through time while the other was moving backwards. It was amazing.
I want Christopher to be congratulated for trying to do something new. I don’t want him to give up. So I want this movie to be a success for him. All the actors did a great job with what they had. I don’t have a complaint about any of them. Nolan has made some of my favorite movies. But Tenet is not one of them.