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TENET – A Look at 2020’s First and Only Summer Blockbuster

Title: TENET
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Christopher Nolan
Starring: John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Dimple Kapadia, Michael Caine, and Kenneth Branagh
Movie length: 2 hour 30 minutes

After a lost summer movie season, Tenet storms into theaters. Is it worth going back to the theaters to see it? Tracey Peyton the director of the Strand Movie Theater (and noted Christopher Nolan) fan and I (Christopher Nolan not-fan) are here to let you know in this spoiler free review.  

Background: Tenet is a Christopher Nolan film. Nolan’s films, such as Memento, Inception, Interstellar, and Dunkirk all play with the concept of time. Aside from Dunkirk, they all also involve the kind of surprises you won’t want to have spoiled. As such, we are going to be very careful in this review not to  ruin anything. Let’s just say, this PG-13 rated movie is about a spy who has to save the world from “inversion” (you learn what that is).  

What is the best part of the movie?

Darren: The cast is very strong. I usually don’t like Robert Pattinson (Twilight), but he is excellent here. He conveys the perfect amount of mystery and charisma, and gives me hope that his upcoming Batman movie might not be too bad. It was nice to see Michael Caine again and Kenneth Branagh chews up scenery. John David Washington is The Protagonist (that’s really how he’s billed). He is more of a cipher, with little backstory to provide an anchor for his character. However, he does bring charm and physicality to the role.

Tracey: I agree on most points Darren. The cast is top-notch. Michael Caine is Nolan’s good luck charm and Kenneth Branagh was excellent….especially in the scene where I had to wince….whoa. I agree with what you said about Robert Pattinson. I am not a fan but began to warm up to him in The Lighthouse, which I thought he was very good in and wasn’t aware he had it in him. I wasn’t looking forward to The Batman and thought he was grossly miscast, but in a way, I am looking forward to it. John David Washington is amazing here. Acting chops run in the family—his dad is Denzel. There were scenes when I was mesmerized by him, perhaps because of how much his speech and timbre is so much like his dad’s. As the protagonist of the film, he has to carry the film or it falls flat—and he does with some help from Pattinson and Branagh.

Christopher Nolan is famous for twisty mind-bending movies.  How does this stack up?

Darren: Honestly, I’m not sure I got it. It was entertaining to be sure. I think this movie bears repeat viewing to see if the internal logic holds up. I say that, because I never really grasped what how Inversion worked. I liked Memento and Inception because they ‘worked’ – they remained consistent through the entire movie. I felt Interstellar kind of gave up at the end and settled. This movie seemed to maintain the same rules, but without truly understanding them, I can’t say. I’d place this one behind Memento and Inception, but ahead of the rest of Nolan’s movies. And yes, I know that includes Dunkirk (I’m admittedly the only person in America who hated it) and his Batman movies (I’m the only person in America who didn’t really like them that much).

Tracey: Outside of the Batman trilogy and some may argue, The Prestige, the majority of Nolan’s films deal with time as a character. If you view the film from that perspective you are more likely to pick up things the first time you see it than if you didn’t. It does require a second viewing because the first time you see it, you want to make sure you don’t miss anything…so the second time if you view it from the aspect of time as a main character, I am sure the light bulb will come on if it didn’t during the first viewing. Memento made me a fan of Christopher Nolan when I saw it in the theater and The Prestige made me a believer. Then Inception solidified Nolan for me as one of my favorite directors. Dunkirk, proved to me that I was right about Nolan’s talent for directing. Tenet does not disappoint…except for no Tom Hardy. For those that know me, you know what role he could have played in this film…..and it was not one of the principal ones if you want a hint.

This is a (the only) summer movie, how do the special effects stand up?

Darren: While I am not sure they made sense, there are some amazing visuals on par with Inception. The fight sequences were well choreographed and I appreciated how you could actually see what was happening as opposed to the overused quick cuts many movies now employ. My one criticism in this area is the sound mixing. Between the booming sound and characters wearing masks (a problem I had with Nolan’s Bane), the dialogue was sometimes hard to hear and understand.

Tracey: The effects hold up and I would say on par with the effects of Inception. It is frustrating for me in fight scenes when they happen so fast you can’t figure out who bites the bullet. Because of the choreography, this does not happen in this movie. Darren’s criticism is a common one for Nolan films—you either love the sound and its mixing or you don’t in Nolan films. Over the years Christopher Nolan has been nominated for sound Oscars eight times, winning five. This feature is something you come to expect in Nolan films just like “time” being a character.

Who will like this movie?

Darren: Christopher Nolan just isn’t my dude. But, this movie is entertaining. It has a thought provoking premise that seems to be well executed (we’ll have to see if it holds up under future viewings). It has some cool action scenes befitting a summer escape movie. I suggest seeing it on the big screen to get their full impact and avoid the inevitable spoilers you will get if you wait to see it at home. If you like Nolan’s other work, you should like this as well.

Tracey: Christopher Nolan is my dude. If you are a fan of Nolan, you will love this film and see it multiple times. You will come up with various scenarios just like you did after viewing Inception and Memento. Christopher Nolan is one of the biggest proponents of the cinema experience—he wanted his film to be the first tentpole film released. He and Warner Brothers took a gamble….and it is paying off. Its got the action and special effect; it has a great cast and  it makes you think about its premise long after the movie, sometimes so that you have to make another trip to the theaters again to see it.

Final thoughts and score:

Tracey: Nolan’s movies typically run on the long side. I never looked at my watch—it does go by fast. As a Christopher Nolan fan, Tenet is one of my top 3 films. I thoroughly enjoyed this film, it keeps you guessing, keeps your adrenaline pumping and it keeps you  immersed in thought long after you leave the theater. My score is 9.25 out of 10. Run don’t walk to see it at a theater. You owe it to yourself after the 5 ½ month shutdown.

Darren: If you haven’t been to the theater in a while, the 2 1/2 hour run time may stretch your endurance, but it goes by fast. It’s funny Tracey mentioned not looking at her watch, because there are a lot of times the characters in the movie are looking at theirs, with the whole ‘time as a character’ thing. There is no end credits scene. Grade: 8/10 (possible grade inflation because it’s the first movie I’ve seen in a theater in months).

TENET is now out in theaters.

Have you see the movie? What did you think? Feel free to chat with me on Twitter or leave a comment below!

Darren Shulman
Darren Shulman
Darren is a professional lawyer and amateur movie/comic/TV reviewer who is lucky enough to have found a wife who is into the same geeky things he is. Darren has been making the trip from Ohio to San Diego Comic-Con since 2009. Other interests include, in no particular order: monkeys, LEGO, dinosaurs, and playing basketball poorly.

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