After deciding to have a Redbox night, I had a rare moment of certainty: I was finally gonna watch Tenet! I’ve been wanting to see what all the commotion was about regarding this film, for a while now. Back on Labor Day, almost four months ago, this was the movie that was guaranteed to bring back audiences to movie theaters, and its writer-director-producer was adamant about not premiering the film on a streaming service. He was deemed to be the savior for Warner Bros. and a mountainous box office was about to magically appear, since his recent releases were all hits. Unfortunately, COVID-19 had other plans for this would-be blockbuster.
Debuting to $9.4 million, the film involving international espionage and “time inversion” has currently brought in only $57.9 million at U.S. theaters (but more than $304 million worldwide), as the majority of them, stateside, are currently closed. Limiting audience sizes during a global pandemic won’t exactly help your box office results. For at least a year, now, this has been the new normal, but the storyline should have something to do with those numbers, as well.
How is it possible for a movie dealing with characters who travel throughout time — DON’T YOU DARE CALL IT TIME TRAVEL! — constantly changing the narrative, be easily explainable (and easily accessible) to the masses, without calling it a time travel movie? Well, Nolan has spoken, that is why.
OK, so, a nuclear weapon will soon wipe out the future world of Earth, but an inverted bullet can change the past. There’s a major war headed for our hero (known as The Protagonist, as played by John David Washington), who’s risking his life and everything he stands for, to stop it. He also speaks in nonsensical tongues, at times.
“Don’t try to understand it…”
This temporal war involves reverse chronology, as the characters of the present are being attacked by those of the future. Time is of the essence throughout the intricate plots involving dual simultaneous storylines, but mostly it’s trying too hard to outsmart the audience (and itself), just for complication’s sake. Tenet is DEFINITELY loud and proud, featuring some great sound effects and a terrific score, but while watching the film in my bedroom, on a home television set without surround sound, its flaws are glaring.
I have enjoyed Christopher Nolan’s films in the past. His best effort is probably The Dark Knight. Nolan the Director is far superior to Nolan the Screenwriter, with the exceptions of Memento and Dunkirk (but even Memento tried a little too hard, at times). He definitely comes up with some original story ideas that immediately grab your attention, but they’re not always cohesive. **Insert denigrating Inception comment here.**
For Tenet, he’s built a world with rules that constantly change. If they’re that malleable, then they’re not really rules, per se. Balancing a grandfather paradox with a parallel worlds theory and a dead man’s switch will do that to a storyline, revealing all sorts of plot holes (which are much easier to notice while watching at home).
I guess it all boils down to the filmmaker. My original title for this article was going to be “Christopher Nolan Thinks He’s Smarter Than You,” and I still might write that one at some point. It’s just a shame that Nolan the Director glosses over all of the plot holes from Nolan the Screenwriter. If he could just regularly collaborate with a great writer, he could absolutely elevate his work. Instead, he simply tries to outsmart his audiences with action-packed scenes filled with lots of McGuffins and red herrings. It’s the Hollywood way.
I actually liked Tenet, but I didn’t love it. Maybe my opinion would have changed had I watched it inside a movie theater, sitting tightly packed with a nice crowd. Or maybe I would have noticed those same glaring weaknesses, despite the location. And maybe studio’s bottom line will be affected enough by this release that the writer-director-producer will be required to bring in someone who has better writing credentials than Nolan. Now that’s an time inversion story I’d LOVE to make happen, starting with his first film: Memento.