Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” is the first major blockbuster film that has taken the risk of releasing to theaters in our current global pandemic. Boasting a gargantuan reported budget of $200 million, Nolan and Warner Bros. are taking a massive risk in releasing this film to the public. Thus creates the question, is “Tenet” worth the cost of admission?
In short, it may be.
This is Nolan’s most Nolan-like film. If you have seen any of his prior films, such as 2010’s “Inception” or 2014’s “Interstellar,” you understand what that phrase means. Its concept, its tone and its execution all fit his unique style of filmmaking. That being said, this is by far his most confusing film to date. “Inception” is a complex film, with its multiple levels of dreamscapes and time dilations, but “Tenet” is a whole ‘nother level. It is about five times as confusing as “Inception,” and that’s a conservative estimate. That being said, there are some redeeming factors to the confusion.
To start, the visuals are absolutely insane. Nolan showed us through “The Dark Knight,” “Inception” and “Interstellar” what’s possible with a camera. With this, he shows us something different. To put it simply, you have never seen a film that looks anything like this. Visually, this is probably his most impressive film to date, which is high praise when you look at his filmography. It is jam-packed with thrilling action sequences and mind-bending cinematic moments, creating an atmosphere that you have to see to believe.
Another strong aspect of the film is Ludwig Görannson’s score. You may have heard Görannson’s Oscar-winning work in the cultural phenomenon “Black Panther” or his Emmy-winning work for the Star Wars series’ “The Mandalorian.” He yet again submits a fantastic track with this movie, in his first collaboration with Nolan. Nolan’s regular collaborator, Hans Zimmer, was unable to score this film, presumably because of his work on the upcoming film “Dune.”
In other positives, the dialogue is well-written and the acting is solid, but neither are as incredible as in Nolan’s past epics.
All that being said, there are many problems with this film. To begin, while Görannson’s score is incredible, the sound design is not. The balance between the score and the dialogue is bothersome throughout the entire runtime, making it difficult to hear almost every line in every scene. Combine this with an already confusing plot — making exposition all the more vital — and the confusion is upped to another level. It will take days, maybe even weeks or months to understand this film’s plot at a basic level. Even if you watch it 10 times, you may not fully grasp the storyline.
The plot is almost unbearably complex. Much of it is about bouncing between location and location, without much consistency or cohesiveness. As an audience member, you feel like you are just jumping from plot point to plot point, without any sort of connectedness or through line in its totality.
This film also lacks the thematic and emotional cores that Nolan’s past blockbusters famously possess. “The Dark Knight” is renowned for its thematic clash between order and chaos; “Inception” is adored for its deep emotional storyline about Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) overcoming his traumatic past with his wife; “Interstellar” brings out tears with its story between a father and daughter. “Tenet” fails to have the themes or emotions that Nolan’s previous films possess, which hurts the film’s impact, as it feels emptier and lacking compared to his other films.
In conclusion, although “Tenet” has plot issues, sound design problems and lacks a strong thematic or emotional storyline, there is just no way this film isn’t recommended. The visuals are so unlike any other film ever made, that if you are a movie fanatic, seeing this on as large a screen as possible is a must. Unfortunately, because of its flaws, this film only earns a moderately strong recommendation.