Tenet Review + Movie Theater Experience

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After an initial pushback of release, Tenet hit theaters on September 3rd. (Photo Credit: Warner Bros.)

Movie theaters have been closed for a while.  This caused some movies to release on streaming (Trolls: World Tour, Mulan) and others to get their release dates pushed back, in some cases indefinitely (Black WidowIn the Heights, basically every other movie slated for a 2020 release). Despite this pandemic, there is one big blockbuster that released in theaters: Tenet. Directed by the famous auteur, Christopher Nolan, this movie’s was pushed back a bit, but came out in whatever theaters were open on September 3rd.

So I went to see Tenet. Obviously. On my first viewing, not many theaters were open, so I had to drive roughly an hour and a half to a Regal Cinema to catch a 6pm showing of the film. Was it worth it? Well… Let’s get into this.

For those that aren’t familiar with the premise of Tenet, let me explain. You could watch the trailer, but it’s pretty confusing, which makes sense since the movie itself is pretty confusing. The main idea is this: Our main character (known only as The Protagonist, which he literally calls himself in the literal movie) is recruited for a highly classified mission to track down a Russian oligarch who is dealing weapons from the future. These future weapons aren’t laser and lightsabers, however, but guns and ammunition moving backwards in time. The term the film uses is inverted. Without getting too “scientific”, there are machines in this film that can reverse an object or person’s entropy, effectively changing it’s direction on a linear timeline, where effect comes before cause. Anyway–the Protagonist must team up with a charismatic lockpick named Neil, the oligarch’s troubled wife, and one or two other random dudes who do their best to fill in the many blanks of this film.

This movie runs at a breakneck speed. From a chaotic opening scene in an opera house, to our two heroes bungee jumping up a skyscraper, to a commercial airplane crashing into an airport, this film is an ongoing overload of the senses. And all of those things I mentioned happen within the first half of the film, and that’s all before the real “time inversion” aspect comes into real effect. All of Tenet‘s two and a half hour runtime is a constant struggle not to get left behind. On my first viewing, I was lost by the midway point of the film. On my second viewing, after about a week of pondering my first viewing, I was able to follow along for the most part.

So the movie is fast-paced, and for the most part, that’s to be expected with a globe-trotting, high-budget action flick. And as a globe trotting, high-budget action flick, this movie seriously delivers. Christopher Nolan’s large scale ambition and insistence on practical effects in on full display. In my favorite scene of the movie, the Protagonist and Neil are in an art safe with the unusual security measure of locking down and removing all oxygen from the room in the case of an emergency. Well, that emergency happens when those “one or two other random dudes” I mentioned earlier crash a plane into the airport, and the Protagonist and Neil must escape the safe before suffocating. The scene then leads into a fistfight with two mysterious soldiers moving backwards in time. This is our first real introduction to inverted people, but it definitely isn’t the last.

Despite the praise I have given this film, however, it is far from a perfect movie. It is also far from Christopher Nolan’s best films. The next Inception, this is not. The characters in this film and pretty one-dimensional, there are multiple plot-holes, the “science” in this film couldn’t be more confusing, and the main villain’s motivation is pretty vague. Above all this faults, though, the greatest weakness the film has is its sound editing. The film is very loud, and it is often hard to hear important dialogue above a booming score by Hans Zimmer and the constant gunfire and many explosions. The movie ends on what is supposed to be a meaningful voiceover from the Protagonist, but even on my second viewing, I was unable to understand the last sentence of two over the crescendo of the score. Did this issue frustrate me and occasionally remove me from the experience? Yes. Did it ruin the film and make it unbearable? No. Not really.

Should you see Tenet? Yes. I personally believe that despite the movie’s many flaws, it deserves a viewing in theaters. When I entered that Regal Cinema for my first viewing of a movie in theaters for several long months, I forgot about the pandemic. I forgot that half the world was closed down due to Covid-19. I was able to just sit down in a comfy, reclining seat and get absorbed in a high-stakes tale of time travel and international espionage. Was that a priceless experience? Probably not. But it was certainly worth more than the ticket price.