Tenet is Junk Science



TENET  (20200)

Directed by Christopher Nolan

Warner Brothers, 150 minutes, PG-13 (fake physics)


On the website RogerEbert.com, Brian Tallerico nailed it when he called Tenet a film “crafted for YouTube explainer video culture.” Another way to say this is that it is a pretentious video game tricked out to look more profound than it is. Still another is to call it a James Bond movie marred by pseudo physics.


The intellectual bankruptcy of Tenet is masked by its biggest bit of chicanery: all of the explanations for important plot pivots come in machine gun-like verbal bursts that are too fast to deconstruct. And who in their right mind wants to stop and rewind a film that’s already an hour longer than it needs to be? By now you can probably tell that I hated Tenet. Were it not for its shimmery exteriors and its superb performances from John David Washington and Kenneth Branagh, I would have given this bloated waste of time zero stars.


In brief, which is more than can be said of the film, Washington is “The Protagonist,” a spy/secret agent charged by his boss (Martin Donovan) with saving the world. OK, hero territory, but with a twist. Humanity’s Armageddon-triggering event has already happened. Huh? It seems that the present has been invaded by those from the future who wish to alter the past. But they already have. Double huh? If this premise is true, then none of the other stuff in Tenet matters a fig, so roll the credits already.


Instead, we have subplots involving international arms dealers, characters meeting themselves inside of temporal inversions, and a sappy bit of nonsense involving The Protagonist trying to save a woman named Kat (Elizabeth Debicki) from her cruel husband, Andre Sator (Branagh), the arms dealer linchpin of the story, (Or not, if all this has already happened.) At one point, The Protagonist hands over the piece needed to complete a Doomsday Machine because Sator threatens to kill Kat and her son if he doesn’t get what he wants. Moral dilemma test time: Would you save the kid or the mother if by doing so meant that the madcap father will now destroy the world?


If only that were but the only thing that made no sense. There is, for instance, a weapon that looks as if a demented five-year-old assembled a tinker toy from random steel lugnuts and washers. There is also an idiotic ending that’s a mere baby step above “it was all a dream.” To follow any of the movie involves asking who is temporally inverted and who isn’t. A better question to ask is: Who cares?


 I will say this for Tenet: it looks good. How can you go wrong with a visual travelogue that takes us from Kiev to Denmark, Norway, Estonia, India, Siberia, and –best of all –the Amalfi coast? A few good performances also make the film semi-bearable. Washington – I had no idea he was once a pro gridiron player – is a nice combination of smarts, charm, and intensity. Branagh once again proves that no one does accents as convincingly as he; this time he’s Russian. Dimple Kampedia and Robert Pattinson are also decent as arms dealer Priya and agent Neil, respectively, though both roles are mere contrivances. Speaking of which, the rail-thin Debicki appears to have been cast for no better reason than looking good when diving from a yacht into the Gulf of Salerno.


Tenet has been $100 million bomb for Warner Brothers, which sank way too much money into production and distribution. As for Director Christopher Nolan, let’s just say that Tenet is no Dunkirk or Memento. It’s not even Inception II, though some explainers have cast it in that light. But who knows, maybe the explainers are from the future and are just trying to offload a toxic turkey.


Rob Weir

1 comment:

Paul said...

I don't feel as strongly as you do and left the home video watching of Tenet thinking and thinking about the ramifications of the technology if it existed. When I found so many plotholes that I could easily push the entire set of Inception through, my brief obsession with the flick was over. It was no Inception or Memento (still need to see Dunkirk). You are correct, it is a visual feast and I would add rollicking fun until you do think and deconstruct. Then you're left with empty calories. I remain stunned that THIS is hill Nolan was willing to die on over theatrical releases.