Watching Christopher Nolan’s Tenet is like hitting puberty in the middle of a warzone while a freight train races past you—exciting, confusing, and LOUD.
Expectation v. Reality
But all that aside, Tenet being loud is not going to surprise anyone who’s been paying attention to the reviews it’s received. Basically, everyone who’s seen the movie has commented on how you regularly lose dialogue to the thunder of gunfire or its soaring score—as well as how difficult it is to follow Tenet’s time-travel plot machinations.
I went into it prepared for all these shortcomings and more, but the reality was still a slap in the face.
Nolan and his team have cranked the sound up to 11 for Tenet, making the crack of a gunshot, the roar of an engine, and the chaos of a car crash nearly unbearable at times. And, trust me, there are a lot of bullets flying, engines roaring, and cars crashing during Tenet’s 150-minute runtime. I left the theater feeling like there was cotton stuffed in my ears and with my head spinning.
While that’s been a negative for a lot of people, I didn’t mind it so much. After my viewing, I enjoyed puzzling over Tenet’s more convoluted plot elements. It’s a movie that practically demands multiple viewings, and I’ll certainly be seeing it again at some point (with earplugs close to hand).
John David Washington holds his own as the unnamed lead of the movie (literally referred to as “the Protagonist”), although his charm and Nolan’s writing don’t always gel; Robert Pattinson provides an air of levity as Neil, the Protagonist’s handler and partner on their mission to save the world; and Elizabeth Debicki, while not utilized to her full potential, still manages to dazzle as the reluctant and vengeful wife of the film’s villain, Andrei Sator (a delightfully hammy Kenneth Branagh).
Time (Travel) is the Enemy
It’ll be difficult to wrap your mind around the details of the film’s approach to time travel the first time through—weapons can move back in time if directed with purpose and people can also move back in time while other people move forward in time and sometimes the past and future happen simultaneously in one room and have I lost you yet?—but I would encourage anyone watching Tenet to just let it all go.
You can keep up with the movie’s central plotline fairly easily—two dudes trying to stop a Russian megalomaniac from initiating the apocalypse—and the visuals are so stunning, the scale so immersive, that the sweatier elements of the movie should roll right off you.
Tenet is Christopher Nolan at his most ambitious, pushing viewers to stop thinking linearly by weaponizing his long-standing fascination with time. While this isn’t him at his best, it’s certainly him at his most spectacular, delivering a dense, challenging blockbuster that you’ll be trying to unravel long after it ends.
Or not. You might just have so much fun watching cars crash and un-crash that the physics of it all don’t phase you. There’s something to be said for the surface level enjoyment of stellar special effects. Either way, you owe it to yourself (if you can do so safely) to see Tenet on the biggest screen possible.
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