The day has finally arrived. Christopher Nolan’s Tenet is out there in the world! Unfortunately not everyone can enjoy it on the big screen and I must emphasise that this is not important enough to risk your health. Stay home if you need to. But… if you do have a chance, I recommend watching this on a big screen. Because despite it having a few flaws it’s still a great cinematic experience. And you could see my country, Estonia, on a big screen which is once in a life time experience. And this is probably going to be the only Hollywood blockbuster that I’ll have a special connection with.
I will try to make this review semi-spoiler free. There is a chance I will do a spoilery post on Tenet as well but we shall see. But this will be as vague as I can possibly make it while making valid points. I hope.
So the movie follows The Protagonist (John David Washington) going to save some guy in Kiev, Ukraine (me ruining movie magic: actually Tallinn, Estonia and yes, I was in that opera and no, I don’t think you can see me) from getting killed. There he gets caught but doesn’t reveal his identity and that throws him into the spy spiral of Tenet. This is not a spoiler, this happens in like the first 10 minutes of the movie. The rest, well, he teams up with Neil (Robert Pattinson) and tries to get close to a bad guy (Kenneth Branagh) through Kat (Elizabeth Debicki).
The whole thing is surrounded by the danger of the World War III and some scary technology that can make objects inverted. If you love physics you’re gonna love Tenet. It’s a big 2,5 hour long physics lesson with explanatory dialogs at every turn. Though it’s helpful to follow the crazy ass timeline, it’s also super annoying because it never really allows you to fully enjoy the movie. Tenet is constantly trying to throw information at you and it’s a hard plot to follow. BUT I must say that Tenet is definitely a movie that benefits from multiple viewings. I can see some things resonating after the second, third or fourth viewing for sure.
Now let’s get more into the characters. If you expected to know more about The Protagonist along the way, don’t bother. He remains mysterious and we never really get to know him. This works in the context of the movie. Throwing more backstory into Tenet would only add running time and considering all the explanations, it would just serve as a distraction.
John David Washington does a good job here. There is a lot of physicality to his role in Tenet and I heard he did most of his stunts so kudos to him! I will get more into his character later on but for the most part, Washington was good…. but Pattinson was better.
Robert Pattinson as Neil was great! I love his energy or the lack of, I loved-LOVED his hair! Honestly, having Pattinson in the same city last summer was already a mind blowing experience for me but seeing that hair in motion on a big screen: divine. Not sure what it is but Pattinson’s charisma just took over the movie. He was supposed to Robin to Washington’s Batman but he was instead Batman… literally. I think part of this was because of his accent which I don’t hear as much and also because he seemed to have fun. Washington definitely did a lot for Tenet and I applaud him for taking on so many of the stunts but he could not overpower Pattinson with charisma.
I could gush hours about Pattinson in this movie and I probably will.. but not today. I’ll say this though, and this is very important, he is delicious on screen.
The female lead of Tenet is Elizabeth Debicki as Kat. Nolan did good here because she wore high heels basically the entire time and towered over men like the queen she is. She even got a scene where she put her long legs into good use.. it was a very smart moment. Her character had the most backstory in Tenet and it almost worked. I wish there was something a bit more there and that later brings me to the downfall.
Her counterpart, the villain of the movie, Kenneth Branagh as Andrei was… and this comes from someone who is extremely critical of villains in any movie… alright. He is nothing special, it’s very stereotypical in my eyes and it’s just a bit dull. Sorry, Nolan but I think you can write better villains. I do appreciate how Debicki was tied to Branagh’s character and how her story arc grew from their story. But as far as villains go, Andrei was just a douche and not the entertaining kind.
But let’s quickly go over the action scenes in this movie. There are three major ones and all three are very complex. In terms of how these were put together, hands down, amazing! The car chase scene (and not just because it was filmed in Tallinn) was pretty great. It was all actually happening so it’s a bit of a mind-fuck and I loved it.
The fact that Nolan crashed an actual plane in an actual airport also deserves an applause. In all honestly, a lot of the action was filmed in Estonia it seems. There is a heist element to one of the action sequences and I think that’s also partly filmed in Kumu, our Art Museum. Correct me if I’m wrong (I’m sure somebody can verify this too) but I’m like 85% certain. The third one was a complete mayhem for me and I need to see it again to fully comprehend it all.
Without going too deep into Tenet, I’ll say that the downfall of the movie is the imbalance of the structure. All the elements are there. You have an interesting sci-fi concept. The action sequences look well made, and as always they are practical and innovative. Fighting sequences are unique due to the plot. The actors are on top of their game. The cinematography falls a bit into the generic category with nothing special really standing out but the complexity of the stuff happening on the screen makes up for it (a bit).
So what is missing? The emotional impact. As I said you never really get to know The Protagonist and honestly, the only one I cared for was Neil. But that was not enough. There is a whole subplot of Kat that never really resonated with me either and even though her backstory was very compelling, it fell short.
I’d say the explanatory side of the plot was so overwhelming that the emotional side of the plot was simply pushed aside. For me it’s a bit of a downfall for Tenet… even though for me the emotional side was technically there. I was “in the movie”, I saw my city on multiple occasions and I got to experience a completely new connection. That is emotional but that is also an exception. But I do need to see how it all holds up the second time around to be certain. Because there is that one scene that almost had me… I just was so overwhelmed at that point that it came out of nowhere.
Initially I figured this will be a no brainer, five out of five rating for the long awaited Christopher Nolan movie. And honestly, just the sheer fact it has Estonia and you can hear Estonian as well, I want to give it five stars. It’s just.. as a lover of movies, Tenet represents something utterly different to me on a personal level. I have a connection with this movie that I will never have with any other movie… so in ways, it hurts a little to feel a bit underwhelmed.
Tenet explores the idea of time and the ability to move against it. I honestly can’t explain it from the top of my head even if I tried. The 2,5 hour long physics lesson didn’t help either. There is a lot of explanatory dialog in Tenet and it’s helpful but also a distraction. As breaks to the physics stuff we get three big, two smaller action sequences. We also get a bit of an emotional side story but it never really resonates.
For me another distraction was actually having Estonia in the movie (the first four gifs are all from scenes filmed in Estonia, the fourth one at least should be too but I’m not 100% certain). To see Tallinn and Estonian actors was understandably a bit of a distraction. Is this how it feels, to see your town, city, your nation represented in a Hollywood blockbuster? For me it’s a rare thing to have so I don’t have anything to compare it with. It’s the first Hollywood blockbuster to come to Estonia, who knows, maybe it’s also the last but I hope it’s not. We closed down a whole motorway for you Nolan, you better come back!
As I wrap this up I do want to say that Tenet is not perfect. It has flaws and honestly, Inception is still probably my favourite. The Dark Knight is right behind it due to my eternal love for Ledger. But I do keep Nolan on a higher pedestal than other directors so he is his own biggest competition at the moment. Still, props for doing minimal CGI, not using green screen and doing practical stunts. And trotting the globe right before a pandemic. If anything, Tenet is in many ways, an emotional experience due to the factors outside of itself.4