Going Forward and Backward at the same time
As a science nerd, I love a good time travel movie. It takes some extra thought since you have to remember where you are in the show’s timeline as opposed to the film’s run time. Because it this extra effort that one has to apply to the film, some viewers don’t really “get it” when watching a time travel movie. If you are such a person, you should avoid Tenet at all costs.
The general plot of Tenet is simple: A man known as The Protagonist is on the mission of all missions - Save the World.
The organization he works for has become aware of a future technology called “Inversion Technology” that has the ability to “reverse the entropy of an object.” It’s being trafficked from the future to the past, in parts, to be used in a space (or time) that is harder to detect.
Basically, it’s time travel, but in isolation, like a singular person or object can travel backward in time while everything else moves forward in time around it.
After I figured out (for the most part) what was happening in the movie, I scored this movie a very generous 6, including a bonus point added for its creativity.
Originality: “A person travels back in time to save the world” has been done many times. Whether it’s primarily the small California town of Hill Valley in the Back to the Future Trilogy or all of mankind in The Tomorrow Wars, this trope is rarely done in a way that ultimately separates it from another other, in my opinion, outside of characters and objectives.
I love time travel movies, but it’d be hard to give any other of them full points for originality. Again, the idea of reverse-moving time travel within forward-moving time travel is creative, hence the bonus point, but that’s the limit there. It’s not super egregious, but it is what it is.
Originality: 1 point
Bonus Point for Creativity.
Characters: The film is led by the Protagonist, who was a soldier on a mission who was “killed” so that he could be brought back for THE mission of saving the world. The Protagonist is aided by a few people along the way that are seemingly a part of the same organization. Everyone seems to come from money and is rich and apparently larger bank accounts lead to smaller personalities. This is the biggest issue I have with Tenet - the characters have no character. You don’t really learn about them individually, which is fine I guess since they’re spies, but figuratively, their personalities are as monotone as a personality can be.
I get that a dismissive and nonchalant disposition would come with the job, to a point, but if I’m to be invested in any of them, I need something.
The only one with a soul is Kat, the wife of Andrei Sator, an arms dealer who is caught in the mix of this mission. She fears her husband and wants a divorce, but knows that she’ll lose her son if she does. The Protagonist works to free her from Andrei’s control, but even here, he’s tone makes everything transactional.
Character: 1 point
Story: Okay, here’s the gist of it - a military team infiltrates another military team to save one of their operatives who’s been compromised, I think. In this mission, the soon-to-be Protagonist is captured but commits suicide to avoid torture. This was apparently staged as a team for the soldier so he would become the Protagonist (why this title, I don’t know but there it is.)
He’s told of the Inversion technology and the mission (which, in my opinion, is poorly explained. The best I can gather, you have to treat an item as if you’ve already used the item before you can use the item if the item is Inverted. *shrugs*)
From here, he has a handler named Neil, played decently by Robert Pattinson, who helps him on this convoluted mission to find out who is communicating with the future to use this technology in the past (whose past exactly is uncertain, but maybe also doesn’t matter.)
They travel the world, seemingly knowing all the right people at all the right times to talk to for whatever they need next. There seems to be a network of people around the world perfectly spaced and timed to help the Protagonist and that’d off to me.
They are led to Andrei, a Russian arms dealer, who avoids killing the Protagonist for WAY too long. This also doesn’t make sense except to give Protagonist time to escape because plot.
This also introduces Kat, Andrei’s wife, who becomes Protag’s motivation without being a romantic interest. To be honest, I’m not sure whether I’d like this less or more if she were a love interest.
There’s a bomb that will destroy the World, past, present, and future (I think) and the device is stopped.
There’s a lot more, but it’s either hard to explain clearly or so confusing that you’d have to watch it (maybe more than once) to understand it anyway. For this, it gets 1 point.
Story: 1 point
Ending: As I mentioned, there’s a bomb that needs to be stopped, because of course there is. The final mission consists of two teams, one landing at the beginning, moving forward in time, and the other landing at the end, moving backward through time, yet in the same place within the same pocket of time (I guess) so that what one team does impacts the other team. It’s a fun scene to watch, so that’s a plus, and by this point in the movie, you probably understand enough to flow through this scene easier than other parts of the movie. The mission is successful because of course it is and the weapon is split up so that it can’t be used again.
After this, Protag returns to attack his original informant *checks notes* Priya, who is out to kill Kat after all was over. This scene reveals that the Protagonist had been working for himself this whole time, he just wasn’t working for himself yet. No, wait, he hadn’t sent himself on the mission…no. He retroactively sent himself on the mission after having done the mission…either way, he was the big boss dude in the first place, in a scene that would only be necessary to give purpose to him giving Kat a special phone number earlier in the movie or to set up a sequel.
Either way, it should have ended with the team splitting the weapon, in my opinion. One point.
Ending: 1 point
Enjoyment: The movie was good enough but with the dull characters and overly complicated tech which may or may not actually make sense, even in sci-fi-nese. Confession - I usually take notes so that I have the names and places I might need to mention as I’m writing these, but the movie took so much energy to understand what was happening, I barely took any. Even afterward, I was trying to explain the movie to myself and failed. All in all, it’s okay. One point.
Enjoyment: 1 point