Tenet Review: A Welcome Back to the Movies

Staff Writer: David McCallister

Releasing a movie during a pandemic creates significant challenges. Tenet, directed by Christopher Nolan, is the first blockbuster to push the return to movie theaters. Having acclaimed films like the Dark Knight Trilogy and more recent movies like Dunkirk, Nolan’s latest endeavor tried to captivate audiences, but has been released to a less than lukewarm reception.

Even though the performance box office-wise is disappointing, the film is a blast. Tenet provides a thrilling, exhilarating ride from start to finish with beautiful set pieces, an intimidating yet satisfying story, and an amazing soundtrack that sadly will not be seen by many due to the release plan the director insisted for his film.

Tenet follows The Protagonist, played by son of Denzel Washington, John David Washington. The Protagonist is tasked to stop World War III from ever coming to fruition by using inverted time mechanics to shape his past, present, and future.

Going into a movie that challenges the viewer to pay attention to how an important plot point works can be daunting, leaving the viewer unsatisfied by the end of the film. Tenet helps guide the audience through these confusing moments by carefully explaining and showing how time travel works. Robert Pattinson, who wonderfully plays Neil in the film, gives the audience the information they need to guide them throughout.

  A convoluted plot is not an issue, but rather the audio mix accompanying the film is a prominent negative, as it is almost inaudible to hear what most of the characters are saying. The audio mix of Tenet decides to put background ambience and the soundtrack over the important expository moments, creating a confusing experience trying to understand where the film is going for most of the runtime. 

At most Tenet takes two to three watches to fully grasp the idea of time and to fully appreciate the film, thanks to the disappointing audio mix.

Ludwig Göransson provides the soundtrack to Tenet, which feels very stylish and sophisticated, while also building tension using a wonderful repeating bass effect that feels reminiscent of James Bond films. This soundtrack is great, but should not detract and take away from a key component of Tenet which is story. 

Writing also comes as an issue for the film. It is harder to connect with the characters, to feel the weight and risk of the situations that are happening on screen. What overshadows this less than desirable story are the set pieces, which provide an exhilarating film experience from start to finish.

From the initial opera house heist in the first ten minutes, to crashing a Boeing 747 into a runway building, the film does not let go of what it has sold itself on from the beginning; its action. 

As the film progresses and the time travel becomes even more convoluted, the story mixed with the action makes the audience think carefully about how and why these moments are happening, something that has been lacking in modern action films. 

Tenet is meant to be seen on the biggest screen, preferably an IMAX theater since the movie was mostly shot on IMAX cameras. Sadly, director Christopher Nolan decided to not delay the movie to push the reopening of movie theaters, so the closest IMAX open right now is almost two hours away in South Carolina. 

The release plan for Tenet doesn’t hinder how great the film is on its own feet, but can drastically change how audiences are able to interpret the film and the emotions that come with seeing it on a massive screen rather than a TV.

Tenet is a great film, even with the inaudible audio mix, flat characters, and frustrating release plan. The action scenes mixed with an espionage story about time travel make this one of the best modern action films. It requires more than one watch to fully understand how the film works, but hopefully soon more avid moviegoers will be able to experience Tenet at a local theater.

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