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COLUMN: 'Tenet' may not be perfect, but it's worth a watch



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John David Washington plays a starring role in the new movie "Tenet." Movie Stills Database

The release of Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” has become much more dramatic than what would normally be expected from a blockbuster. Originally set for theatrical release July 17, it was delayed three times due to the coronavirus pandemic. The pandemic changed “Tenet” from a standard big-budget release into more of an event. 

The second trailer for “Tenet,” released May 21, proudly advertised it would be “Coming to Theaters,” — a shocking statement to make while theaters were still closed and new cases were still being reported. But the statement turned out to be true, and “Tenet” has now been released in theaters across the country. 

But away from all the hype, is “Tenet” actually any good?

Well, maybe. 

Describing the plot of “Tenet” almost feels like a useless endeavor. I think I was able to follow it for the most part, but the details are still muddled. The basic concept is pretty simple. John David Washington and Robert Pattinson have to stop a third world war. But also there’s time travel. But it’s not really time travel, it’s technically time inversion. And there are more characters. And more details about time inversion. And some twists along the way. 

There’s a lot to love about “Tenet,” starting with the man himself, Christopher Nolan. While this doesn’t stack up to some of his best work such as “The Dark Knight,” “Memento” and “Inception,” he has a fairly reliable track record of making good movies. The action in particular has Nolan’s fingerprints all over it. 

There are a number of great action set pieces throughout, most notably at the end. The battle during the climax was so insane I could barely believe it. One really well-choreographed fight scene early on was another standout. A lot of the action is so enjoyable because of how fresh it is, so I won’t reveal anything else.

Although Washington wasn’t as good as I hoped he would be, Pattinson and Elizabeth Debicki picked up a lot of the slack. While they didn’t have the strongest characters, they both managed to inject a healthy dose of charisma to give them a little more life. 

Ludwig Göransson’s score stood out to me as well. It always felt appropriate, ramping up the energy during big action scenes, and cooling down when characters needed a minute to talk. I was, on the whole, very impressed with the finished product. 

All of this being said, “Tenet” has a laundry list of issues, most of which come from the script. 

It’s abundantly clear no one told Nolan he may have gone a little too far with “Tenet.” While the description I gave might make it seem a bit complex, it doesn’t even scratch the surface. On top of having a tricky subject matter, “Tenet” is comically dense. Despite being 150 minutes long, it doesn’t feel nearly long enough to cover all the ground it needs to.

And once you finally crack through the puzzle box that is the basic concept, you reach a fairly hollow story led by truly lackluster characters.

Washington and Pattinson don’t have any motivation other than saving the world. Debicki’s character is motivated by her son, a prop who doesn’t have any purpose other than to be a prop. The villain doesn’t reveal his beliefs until the very end, and by then I didn’t really care anymore. I had basically given up on trying to understand these characters as people and instead just let myself enjoy what I was watching. 

So, is “Tenet” actually good?

Yeah, I think it is.

While a lot about “Tenet” merits criticism, I can’t deny I was enjoying it while in the theater. I liked watching the action. I liked hearing the score. I liked looking at Robert Pattinson. It was a lot of fun, especially to watch on a big screen. 

I maintain you should only go to a theater if you feel safe, but if you do, “Tenet” is the movie to watch.

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