If you have been through my Christopher Nolan Movies Ranking, you know how much impressed I was by Dunkirk and the way it ended. It was the least Nolan-ish of all Christopher Nolan movie endings, and yet, it emerged as the most lasting in my memory. Tenet comes very close to it, if not as much, in leaving a sweet aftertaste. However, the deviation is – Dunkirk was a thoroughly outstanding film. Tenet, sadly, isn’t.
It has everything you expect from a Christopher Nolan film:
- A star-studded cast;
- Stunning cinematography;
- Fantastic score (you won’t miss Hans Zimmer), and
- A puzzle-piece narrative which demands repeat viewings.
Yet, Tenet falls short in comparison to everything Nolan has done before. His signature magic (Nolanism!) is mostly absent from the film, majorly in the first half, which saps the awesomeness of the second half, (precisely the final 30 minutes). He appeared concentrated on making a James Bondish film, with the blend of a Sci-Fi twist.
There are men in tailored suits, fancy yachts, high table dinners, incredibly high stakes, a big, cartoonish villain, his sizeable henchman, and a trademark scene at the Opera. Nolan has perpetually mentioned his love for the James Bond franchise, and Tenet reflects his admiration for the same.
Sadly, Nolan fails to make Tenet engaging when dangling around the Bond movie formula.
The film begins exceedingly well. It thrills you with the visual-auditory experience you have come to expect, especially on IMAX. Hoyte Van Hoytema’s cinematography amazes from the getgo, with arresting visuals.
The new talents, John David Washington in the lead, and Ludwig Göransson as the replacement for Hans Zimmer, also provide a sense of refreshment. It is the combination of these three artists which help make Tenet irresistible to your eyes and ears for its entirety, mainly the first half, which tremendously disappoints in writing.
There is an excessive amount of exposition and plot-centric narrative, which limits character development. One scene after the other characters utters expository dialogue, which becomes tedious after a while. The first act, specifically m, has 20-minutes of non-stop exposition, which even includes character introductions, but only make them as vessels in communicating the story.
A lot has been said about Christopher Nolan on him being a better visual artist than he is as a writer, and Tenet stamps it. Even the dramatic revelations that happen at the end of the film only contribute to improving the story intellectually than on an emotional level.
The film is open-ended. There is so much more to the beginning and ending that the story doesn’t feel complete.
Though it is quite audacious of Nolan if you think what he has achieved on screenwriting terms, it feels unfulfilling, provided he shortchanges character development for the high concept.
The performances are, however, excellent. John David Washington is perfect as the unnamed Protagonist. Despite a little backstory, he ensures you root for him till the end. His chemistry with the supporting actors is terrific. He and Robert Pattinson reminded me of Henry Cavill and Army Hammer from The Man From U.N.C.L.E., who were delightful.
If a sequel or prequel ever gets greenlit, you look forward to seeing the pairing of John David and Robert as the focal point.
Elizabeth Debicki, on the other hand, plays one of Nolan’s familiar female characters. She is reminiscent of Mal from Inception, and Sarah from The Prestige, meaning she is also a troubled, tortured character who becomes the core motivation for the hero to do heroic things.
There is, fortunately, a redeeming aspect, which I don’t wish to spoil. But it does expose Nolan’s vulnerability in creating strong female characters. My immense appreciation goes to Debicki, for she manages to infuse some emotional depth to the film, and gives a memorable performance.
The best work, surprisingly, comes from Kenneth Branagh. As the primary antagonist, he is delightful to watch. His Russian accent is super thick and his performance over-the-top. But it works remarkably well. Funnily, he isn’t a tall person, but he looks really big and menacing. He appears somewhat late into the film, but the moment he does, he elevates the intrigue and enjoyment to a great measure.
That being said, Tenet comes to being fully Nolany during the final hour of the film, when the Bond-cliches take a backseat, and the Sci-fi element takes centre stage.
Some fights happen with people going forward and backwards simultaneously, even from multiple perspectives, and it is all awe-inspiring stuff.
I wonder if the trailers hadn’t revealed the time inversion aspect and marketed the film plainly as Nolan’s attempt at spy genre. Because having to see it, unknown of its temporal twists would be absolutely bonkers. And it is going to be like it for those who see it this way.
But for the rest, who watched the trailers, will be bothered by the film’s inadequacy in balancing the Bond-movie tropes and the trippy sci-fi concept. The film, despite its originality and awesomeness as a visual-auditory experience, feels slightly disappointing. And it is disappointing by Nolan’s own high standards.
Your opinion on it will continue to change on repeat viewings, which will be required for deciphering its intricacies. But for now, experience Tenet on the best and the biggest IMAX theatre, preferably with subtitles.
Rating: 3.5 / 5
PS. Dimple Kapadia is impressive in a brief but vital role.
What are your thoughts on Tenet? Did you enjoy it more or less? Leave your reply below in the comments section.