I have always felt that when Christopher Nolan tries his hand at high concept science fiction films he always fails. That isn’t to say that there aren’t striking visuals in Inception (2010) and Interstellar (2014), just that Nolan sacrifices character for exposition. Not just any amount of exposition either, but vast, unbelievable quantities. The reason that his films have so much exposition is that Nolan seems to think that all of his “big ideas” need to be explained, and explained, and explained. These “big ideas” or high concepts aren’t anything new to the science fiction genre, in fact a lot of them have been dealt with on some iteration of the Star Trek television shows, it’s just that “big ideas” are all Christopher Nolan really has.
Tenet (2020) is a terrific example of this. Nolan acts as though if the story makes absolutely no sense (typical of Nolan’s films) but if he spends the whole film explaining why it “could” maybe make sense then the audience will be confused enough to believe that there is something actually therein this weirdo fusion of Time Bandits (1981) with The World Is Not Enough (1999). What Nolan does well is choreograph large, showy set pieces with lots of moving parts (this is probably why his Batman films are so much more watchable than his original material).
There are no actual characters in Tenet, just character types. Nolan clumsily tries to add depth here and there, but when John David Washington refers to himself as “the protagonist” you know that there is nothing going on beneath the surface.
Tenet has one upside for me though. The critical reception of this latest in a long line of blockbuster nonsense has been so negative that I dare to hope that others are catching on to the fact that Christopher Nolan isn’t very good. I’m sure that if he applied his visual sensibilities and disregard for narrative/character to making shorts with action figures for Instagram he’d find his real calling.