In a world where there are many complaints about a lack of originality in Hollywood, Christopher Nolan continues to deliver truly unique – often mind-bending – cinematic experiences with his films. His latest blockbuster achievement, Tenet, once again delivers on that front in what is easily his most complicated story yet.
Well, if you break it down to its nuts and bolts it’s a straight forward story of an unnamed CIA operative (referred to as the Protagonist and played by John David Washington) who is recruited into a mysterious organization called Tenet in order to stop World War 3 (and the end of the world as we know it) from happening; however, Tenet is anything but straight forward. Nolan toys with time travel as well as inversion in this massively complex thriller he’s created, and it’d be an injustice to the film and experience for me to delve any further into the actual plot than I already have.
It’s not as though there’s more you really need to know about it, as stopping the end of the world is what the film is about, but it’s the fascinating and riveting way the story is told that makes it so special. Nolan is almost unforgiving in the amount of information that flies at the viewer, especially during the first act of the film. Right out of the gate we’re thrown into an intense heist that has dialogue being thrown around as though the viewer should know what’s happening already. From there we jump into the Protagonist being recruited, but again, few answers are given and even more questions are piling up.
The dialogue is also very quick, with the characters throwing verbal jabs or quid pro quos back and forth, all intertwined with names and information that’s important to the plot but also just a lot to take in all at once. It doesn’t help at times that the film has an incredibly loud sound mix, which is clearly done on purpose for that true cinematic blockbuster feel; however, the important dialogue can sometimes get lost in it, so subtitles may be your friend from time to time.
This information that’s flying at the audience isn’t just piles of exposition; though there is plenty of that as well, not so hidden behind dialogue aimed at Protagonist by the supporting characters. It works because Protagonist is learning about this world alongside the audience, but it is a lot to process and it may cause the average viewer to just get overwhelmed early on. That’s not to say that this is a movie for smart people or anything like that, because that’s not what I’m saying at all. I’m just throwing out the warning that there’s going to be a lot of information coming at you at almost all times for the entirety of the two and a half hour runtime, so if you’re looking for a fun action movie to watch where you can just relax and turn your brain off while doing so, I’d hold off on Tenet until you’re ready to focus.
I do think that Nolan can be rather polarizing with audiences when it comes to his films. I don’t think anyone will knock his filmmaking ability or what he brings to the table on a visual front; however, the stories he tells can often divide audiences, with some enjoying all the mental twists and turns he offers throughout, or the pondering over what certain scenes or lines may have meant to the bigger picture when reflecting on the film long after it faded to black; whereas others may view certain parts of his storytelling as bloated, overwrote and needlessly complex just for the sake of it.
I could see Tenet being his most divisive film yet, as it is one that I truly believe will only get better and better upon repeat viewings; but sometimes people just want to watch a movie once and be able to walk away happy, without feeling like repeat viewings are a requirement in order to fully understand what you just watched. While I get that argument, and won’t knock someone if they don’t enjoy a film because of it, I personally like a story that offers even more the second time around.
There are loads of seeds planted and subtle hints throughout the course of Tenet that already have me excited about jumping into this world once again. A few of the hints are not as subtle as they probably should have been and are easy to solve well in advance if you’re paying attention; however, that didn’t deter at all from my enjoyment of the film. Add on the fact that there were a dozen other scenarios that had my mind doing mental gymnastics to the point that I think it’ll now be able to qualify for the summer Olympics, and things more than balanced out.
The film looks absolutely incredible, with Nolan once again proving that he’s one of the top directors in the business. There’s so much going on at all times but it’s never distracting, and even the quieter scenes where things slow down for a moment (there are a few!) are just beautifully framed and mesmerizing to look at. The action sequences are, of course, top tier quality and packed with intensity. The movie may be a hefty 150-minutes in length, but it’s so wholly engrossing that not once did I look away from the screen, or consciously adjust myself in my seat.
This is greatly in part to the fantastic, often subtle acting work done by Washington and his co-star Robert Pattinson. Washington is the one that the audience spends the most time with, and so we’re going through this reality altering, inverted experience with him and learning about what this new threat to the human race really is about and how it works at the same time he is. Pattinson plays Neil, an agent who works alongside Protagonist in an attempt to prevent World War 3 and he’s really fun to watch here. For those who may not have seen Pattinson’s smaller films since Twilight, Tenet may be your first true exposure to him as an actor outside of knowing him as the “guy who played a sparkling vampire” and from here you may understand why he’s actually highly regarded in the acting world, and why the role of Batman is in good hands.
There’s a fairly high chance that you missed Tenet during its theatrical run through no fault of its own, and while I do wish that it had been pushed back until a time when the true theatrical experience it was meant to be seen in was a safe possibility, I also understand that that just wasn’t something that was in the cards. With that said, I am beyond happy that it’s finally available for home viewing and highly recommend that you buckle in for what is a truly astonishing science fiction spectacle – and then remain buckled in because you’re going to want to watch it again.
Blu-ray Video and Audio Review:
Tenet looks flat out gorgeous in 4K, which shouldn’t be surprising when it comes to a Christopher Nolan blockbuster. Whether its action sequences or simple dialogue driven scenes, the audience is treated to an absolutely superb video transfer that is easily one of the prettiest looking films on the format yet. For those who may not have upgraded to 4K yet but prefer not to double dip, I’d recommend picking up the 4K Blu-ray bundle, as the Blu-ray disc that comes in the package looks incredible as well. The 1080p transfer is stunning, and you’ll get to enjoy it to the fullest until the point where you do upgrade and witness the immaculate 4K version that you’ll also have on hand.
Nolan’s films can sometimes get knocked for their audio mixes, and Tenet is no different. Now, the knocking isn’t exactly a harsh criticism, as the film sounds amazing; however, some of the dialogue can be overwhelmed by the score at times. That said, the DTS-5.1 Master Audio track just hammers home the action scenes wonderfully, as sometimes the score can just come ripping through in such powerful fashion that you’re almost pushed back in your seat because of it. Even when this happens though, it’s incredibly clear, never muffling or garbling together. It really is a flawless audio transfer with a cinematic feel that audiences will appreciate since most missed out on theatrical run.
Looking at the World in a New Way – This is the only special feature on the disc (it’s found on the Blu-ray disc, as the 4K disc is just the film alone) and it comes in at a solid 76-minutes in length. It’s broken down into 13 featurettes for more bite-size viewing, but it’s pretty easy to just sit back and take them all in at once for those looking for learn more about the film after finishing it.
The featurettes average about five minutes in length each, with two of the longer ones coming in at 11 and 12 minutes. Here viewers will get to hear from Nolan and various cast and crew members as they talk about the script and where the story came from, bringing it to life in the early stages of production, as well as just about everything else that can be covered in a film’s production from casting to the insane special effects, the unique way the story is told and really so much more.
If you’re coming to the special features for answers, odds are you won’t find what you’re looking for; however, there’s a lot to learn from a fantastic filmmaker as we get a peek into his mind here and it is well worth the time to check it out.
There are also three Theatrical Trailers and a Teaser Trailer for those who enjoy watching those.
Warner Bros. Pictures Presents Tenet. Written & Directed by: Christopher Nolan. Starring: John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Kenneth Branagh, Elizabeth Debicki. Running time: 150 Minutes. Rating: PG. Released on 4K Blu-ray: Dec. 15, 2020.
Tags: Christopher Nolan, Elizabeth Debicki, John David Washington, Kenneth Branagh, Robert Pattinson, Tenet