“Tenet is horrible!” “Tenet is amazing!” I walked into my viewing of Christopher Nolan’s latest film wondering which side of the fence I’d fall on. Three hours later, I have a solid answer and it’s time to share it. I’m going to give you four reasons Tenet is an action scifi triumph.
First, let’s take a step back. You must admit, it’s gotta be hard to be Christopher Nolan these days. Living in that self-induced pressure cooker, making movies in the middle of a pandemic. Everyone’s expecting him to top all of his previous movies. It’s a hard life for a good storyteller, every new story has to be better than the last one.
Nolan to his credit doesn’t seem worried about what that future holds. Based on the premise of Tenet, he’s already living there. If you’re looking for a simple answer to whether you should see Tenet, here it is: Ignore the bad reviews. You’re going to love this action scifi triumph and here’s four reasons why:
One thing about Christopher Nolan: he uses practical effects wherever possible. That’s why we love scenes like the flipping semi truck in Dark Knight or the zero-gee fight scene in Inception. They look real because they are real. Tenet took that to a new level by crashing a real 747 into a real hanger. Just like the train in The Fugitive, Tenet’s production team didn’t rely on SFX or CGI. They did it for real.
It’s ‘James Bond Meets Primer’
That’s the simplest way to describe Tenet – James Bond Meets Primer. Where James Bond has been everywhere, Tenet turns the entire genre on its head in two ways – a gentleman spy who is neither a spy, nor a gentleman who has to prevent WWIII by fighting a doomsday machine that doesn’t exist yet. As with Primer – the excellently-weird 2004 indie time travel flick – we find that discussing physics and multiverse travel is inherently difficult. Especially if you want to keep the audience interested. Yet for uber-nerds like myself – and you – it’s absolutely necessary to establish the authenticity of the story. That could be boring, but Tenet is not. In fact, Nolan gets this out of the way early in a single scene where a character advises Washington: “Don’t try to understand it. Feel it.” Unless you take this advice early, you’ll be incredibly frustrated.
Great action sequences
Now, let’s say for a minute that practical effects and time travel aren’t enough to bring you in. Let’s talk action sequences. Nolan is a polymath of film-making, and understands the universal truth of “If you’re gonna show an action sequence, by God make it the best action the audience has ever seen.” Krav maga-inspired battles, dodging bullets and cars that move both forward and backward in time. You should see the movie for the action sequences alone. Tenet’s fight scenes are miles away from the silly cowboy punches of Roger Moore as James Bond. Until I watched Tenet, I had no idea you could be disabled by a cheese grater. Now, thanks to John David Washington, I know you can. You’ll understand when you see it.
Nolan turns you into the camera
While watching Tenet, I figured something out: Nolan’s storytelling style is similar to Bob Ross’ painting style.
I’ll explain. You can watch Bob Ross on Youtube and notice in his paintings that they aren’t hyper-realistic. That’s by design. Bob communicates through his painting that if you bring enough detail and style, the viewer’s brain will fill in the rest. That’s why you can be fascinated by Bob Ross’ mountains and trees – he’s giving you just enough for your brain to take over. That’s why he was such a good painter and it’s also why Nolan is a great filmmaker. He’s not trying to flesh out the entire universe, he’s giving you a framework of story; your brain will reach in and do the rest.
I could go on, but these are four decent reasons to give a smart movie a chance. Wrapping up, I have a simple message for those currently crapping on Tenet: Suck it, haters. This is a great action sci-fi film, period. If you want to prove me, and Tenet, wrong there’s an easy way to do it.
Just be Christopher Nolan.