Ten things wrong with Tenet

This writer wasn’t swayed by Tenet, Christopher Nolan’s latest time-twisting caper that takes on the tired and weary world of international espionage. Despite the complete absence of any cinema releases over the last few months, Tenet doesn’t make up for the lack of content in any way, shape or form. It isn’t this writer’s intention to demean or pick away at talent, or judge those brave enough to put their ideas into a narrative form to share with the world. But as a critic, my hope would be to strive for a higher standard of storytelling and in that sense, Tenet doesn’t stack up for the following reasons:

  1. Know your world

Nolan is synonymous with dreaming up his own worlds, but these alternate realities still need to abide by the ludicrous rules it has set for itself. In chaotic sequences in which the characters are tearing through the inverted landscape, explosions take place backwards when it suits and it’s anyones guess if something is caught or thrown. It doesn’t adhere to the rules it sets for itself and this trips it up. Nolan really had writers allowance when he decided what was backwards and what was not.

2. Don’t fall victim to genre tropes

Prior to filming, Nolan is reported to have strayed away from reacquainting himself with conventional spy and espionage dramas such as the Bond films, but it seems as though he had a sneak peak. The characters huff and puff around the screen, pontificating about plutonium and algorithms at varying degrees of pitches and tones so as to distance the audience. The aim seems to be to alienate the audience in the way a pompous college student in a stuffy tutorial would. 

3. Don’t be too smart

Most of the characters engage in a preposterous form of ongoing dialogue that overtly addresses the plot. John David Washington and Robert Pattinson speak to each other in a language that can only be described as conceited. The two characters exchange words and finish each other’s sentences as if they were as close as the Weasley twins. They exaggerate and pick apart plot points, zoning in on certain words like a human thesaurus. When one character mentions something, the other character elaborates on the meaning, almost like they asked what a hospital is – for those asking, it’s a building with windows but that’s not important right now. 

4. Be careful of Kenneth Branagh’s accent

In Tenet, Branagh puts on a front as a merciless Russian oligarch who has his heart set on destroying the world – bless him. It’s not that Branagh gives a bad performance, it’s just that I’m tired of Russian’s never being allowed to just speak Russian in films – they always have to have a sinister, broken accent a la Rocky that just exposes the laziness of the writing more.

5. Love yourself – but not too much

It’s obvious that Tenet loves itself, including its faults. Very few films give off this aura of superiority and narcissistic qualities but this has it in spades. Perhaps that’s why this writer didn’t like it – the burgeoning monster that Nolan has created isn’t the inverse reality but the very fact that it thinks it is the main character.

6. Two dimensional characters

For all of John David Washington’s charm, and he has a lot of charisma, Nolan places him in the suave James Bond category who dishes out cheeky one liners before dodging a piece of ammunition. It’s disappointing to have cast John David Washington as the lead role and give him no room for a bit of conviction in his delivery. Special effects come first, and character development is last on the list.

7. Lack of theme

There was a distinct lack of theme which never sits well with this writer. If the theme is inversion and the notion of time playing out backwards, then Nolan missed a beat. There are no subtle hints at an inverse reality, just a cheap, half plausible alternate reality that succumbs to the rules of its own world only when it feels like it.

8. Don’t try to pretend this isn’t just Back to the Future

Towards the end, Robert Pattinson walks away from Washington, pontificating philosophical murmurings, trying desperately to shoe-horn the point of the script in at the end. To sum it up, this writer believes Tenet to be nothing more than a high budget reconstruction of Back to the Future. At least Doc Brown delivered his lines with a bit of comical zest, but the same can’t be said here.

9. Have a bit of class

If Nolan is known for anything, it is putting on a show in the alternate realities he has created. These high budget worlds have worked in the past, The Dark Knight and Inception serve as the gold standard of when referencing that elusive Nolan-esque touch. But both of these examples had a strong foundation in their stories, which when the going got tough for the special effects, at least they could fall back on a fool-proof narrative. Tenet unfortunately has no back-up plan and that’s blindingly evident in those fleeting moments of drama – it’s a pure spectacle. There is a complete absence of a script that usually provides a backbone and fulcrum around which a film revolves.

10. It’s just an illusion

Nolan has created a loyal band of followers, and rightly so after the aforementioned films. It’s an odd relationship in that most Nolan fans crave his type of film – a messy, discordant array of scenes in an alternate reality – which leaves his audience dumbstruck at the end. This writer doesn’t necessarily agree that an audience member should praise a director for making a film that they don’t quite understand now, but after a great deal of YouTube analysis and conspiracy theory research, are satisfied in hindsight by what they have seen. Ultimately what this writer believes is that Nolan has created an illusion that transcends the screen in which he keeps fans afloat and hanging on his every word – simply by confusing them. This can’t last and this writer thinks Tenet has shown just how shallow this manner of storytelling is becoming.

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