Rating: 1/5 Stars
COVID-19 is still as inescapable and mortifying now as it was when we first heard of its lethal side effects and overwhelming quarantine procedures. It halted and crippled everyone’s way of life and every facet of businesses, companies, and the future of those organizations. Movies have been one of the trickiest snags for the world to untangle with nearly every major movie company delaying their films release dates or even their films completion well into next year. Christopher Nolan bravely fought for cinemas to open up and claimed that his latest cerebral sci-fi blockbuster, “Tenet,” was powerful enough to get scared viewers out of their homes and back into theaters and that it could save and stabilize the movie industry sufficiently.
And what was the end result? Well, much like “Tenet” itself, it’s hard to explain. In a twilight world of international espionage, an unnamed CIA operative, known as The Protagonist (John David Washington), is recruited by a mysterious organization called Tenet to participate in a global assignment that unfolds beyond real-time. The mission: prevent Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh), a renegade Russian oligarch with precognition abilities, from starting World War III. The Protagonist will soon master the art of “time inversion” as a way of countering the threat that is to come by turning back and accelerating forward time itself to see what has to be done and how to do it before it’s too late.
Directors are known for having trademark details; little things they do in each of their films that act as their signatures or using the same actors over and over again. Christopher Nolan is known to be a talented filmmaker (The Dark Knight Trilogy) but while many of his films exceed technical limitations and scope, he’s also known for duplicating a most unfortunate formula: grand-scale films with poor representation of women, paper-thin characters, and zero personality or humor to speak of and these flaws are painfully obvious in every film he’s done: from “The Prestige,” “Interstellar,” to even his biggest cinematic success story, “Inception.” With the implied promise of “Tenet” being the one film to bring people back into theaters, it’s frustratingly disappointing to see the film suffer from all Nolan’s aforementioned flaws and then some. “Tenet” is Nolan at his worst when he thinks he is being at his best.
Time travel films or films having anything to do with time travel in some capacity are often called confusing and hard to follow. “Tenet” is no different. This concept of time inversion makes time manipulation infinitely more confusing than it already was. Much like “Inception,” 98% of “Tenet’s” dialog serves to explain all the rules and mechanics of this new system, only this time it fails to clarify anything at every possible moment. The dialog and time mechanics are as lifeless and sterile as the hollowed husks that spout the dribble so commonly; they assume like everyone already knows what they’re saying or that everyone talks this way in real life everyday situations. I barely had any idea what was happening and worst of all, I didn’t care if I did understand because I didn’t care about anyone or anything in this film.
The Protagonist feels as non-descriptive and generic as his pretentious name. We never get any sense or reason why he does what he does, who he is, or how he even counts as an actual person. The film nearly clocks in at 3 hours and everyone is devoid of a recognizable personality or sense of likability. It’s all spent explaining how time inversion works and you STILL don’t ever get a solid grip on the concept anyway. Sure, it allows for some inventive looking action sequences and unique combat maneuvers but even those become snore inducing once you realize there’s still another 45 minutes left to trudge through. There’s not a speck of soul in this film, not an ounce of humanity or sanity that feels real…that is until we get to the sole piece of gold in this mountain of dirt and grime: Kenneth Branagh.
Branagh is a rage binging monster of a person and our primary villain for this film and he, thankfully, owns this role with flawless perfection. For violence fueled mad man, he’s the only person in this film who talks like a normal person and feels like a believable human being. He dominates every scene he’s in and energizes the script’s lifeless dialog to the point you feel like he doesn’t belong here, that he came from and needs to go back to a much better film. Overall, “Tenet” failed to save the movie industry the same way Branagh failed to carry this movie on his own (even though he wasn’t supposed to). Outside of Branagh’s stellar performance and a few flashy neat sequences, “Tenet” is a stiff, drifting piece of plywood and every scripted page and lifeless character is dragging it deeper and deeper down into the water where it needs to stay and sink so it can never bore or confuse another person ever again.