Tenet ★★★

To me, what makes Christopher Nolan an exciting director is his ability to manipulate familiar movie beats into a fresh narrative--often, a very fresh narrative. MEMENTO takes what could have been a normal-ish thriller and eloquently tells it backward. THE PRESTIGE, in its own way, ups the ante on the Shyamalan era of twist-thrillers. BATMAN BEGINS re-narrates superhero films as stories that feel more naturalistic and real-world. DARK KNIGHT puts super heroes in a real-world pit of terrorist ideology and political complexity while also harkening smooth Michael Mann action scenes. And INCEPTION levels up the dreamworld action-fantasy with Hollywood's most cognitive, dream-in-a-dream blockbuster in recent memory. They all succeed because the plot/narrative/atmosphere are all very specifically developed.

The problem with TENET is that it doesn't attentively care for the plot development at all, much less connecting with the audience. Unlike Nolan's previous films' communication, exposition, and narrative strengths, there's very little going on with the 'protagonist's' character development in here. Nolan bites his thumb at audiences who aren't instantly on his wavelength. No solid exposition or bonding time between the characters and the audience, and thus no reason to care much throughout.

Instead, Nolan jumps into TENET, caring mostly about his intricate 'look-at-me' gimmicks. The backwards-moving objects, the time-travel paradox, the entropy-shifting turnstiles. There's a good movie in here, and Nolan wouldn't have to drop much. He's just got to establish a reason to care about his silly algorithm and abstract time-travel central conflicts. Unfortunately, he doesn't, and as a result, TENET is a loud, complicated jumble.

The action scenes are terrific--and truly exhilarating to see high-end stunts and location work without the flavour of CGI exceptionalism. The film wastes no time jumping into action scenes and intense moments, and I suppose TENET deserves credit for its steady onslaught of edge-of-your-seat adventure. There are several show-stopping action campaigns that confirm Nolan's gift for high-concept action. I just didn't care as much as I should have.

Having seen TENET once, and knowing the gist of the complicated affairs, I'm confident that a second viewing would heighten my appreciation for Nolan's international theatre-reopener. The thing is though, TENET isn't or a Charlie Kaufman or a David Lynch movie. TENET, despite its backwards-moving gimmickry, has a fairly plain, linear story about preventing a catastrophe. There's no greater symbolism or opaque artfulness. There's no reason for this film to be the convoluted, ill-explained beast that it is, except that Nolan seems, suddenly, to be brandishing an arrogance toward and lack of patience for the movie-going public, unless they're able to keep up with him.

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