A sequel has the potential to fix Tenet’s mistakes and create a more audience-friendly and enjoyable cinematic experience. Christopher Nolan’s latest film starring John David Washington (The Protagonist) and Robert Pattinson (Neil) pitted the duo against the future in a race against time to save the world using time-inversion technology. Designed to be a self-contained palindrome, this non-linear epic featured overly complicated character timelines that left many scratching their heads upon leaving the theater. Consequently, the film failed to capture the same hype as Nolan’s other films; especially Inception, which set the bar for mind-bending sci-fi thrillers.
As a result of the film’s complicated time-inversion and entropy-reversing technology, some lengthy exposition was required to maintain any semblance of audience comprehension. While this exposition certainly harmed the film - as it is Nolan’s lowest-rated film on Rotten Tomatoes - Tenet also suffered from a major external factor: the COVID-19 pandemic. Tenet, on Nolan’s mistaken commands, was the first major blockbuster to receive a wide theatrical release since the beginning of the pandemic and as such debuted to such a lackluster box office it forced Warner Bros. to shift their release strategy to include same-day HBOmax premieres.
These mistakes could be remedied in a sequel which is set up at the end of Tenet. Nolan would be able to look at the aforementioned mistakes and develop a more streamlined narrative unburdened by the dense exposition as audiences would already have a foundational understanding of how his world works. Nonetheless, Tenet managed to create a fully formed reality with intricate characters and a wealth of backstory that could be utilized in a sequel. Specifically, there is an opportunity to further explore the future/past adventures of The Protagonist and Neil, which includes Neil’s recruitment and the founding of Tenet to save the world from the future.
Moreover, a sequel would not be forced to endure the repercussions of releasing a movie during a pandemic, which would certainly increase its profit potential and mitigate the risk of becoming a box office flop. While this alone was only one of the original film’s mistakes, it would be a major step in the right direction for a follow-up. Perhaps more importantly, any possible sequel would already have the groundwork laid to build on. This would allow it to jump directly into the high-concept spectacle that Tenet left audiences wanting more of, despite the physics degree required to understand how it works.
Without the burden of exposition that plagued Tenet, a sequel could freely explore the events alluded to throughout Tenet. Nolan packed Tenet with enough unseen backstory and mythology to require more than one film to do it all justice. Certainly, an immediate follow-up would observe The Protagonist’s journey to formally establish Tenet and his recruitment of Neil to the cause. This alone would be incredibly intriguing as Neil appears to be former MI6. This would put the focus of the film on the characters and their relationship whereas one could argue Tenet prioritized concept, which undeniably hindered the final product. The prioritization of The Protagonist and his adventures with Neil would deliver a more spectacular action film.
After all, the best moments of the film were the action sequences that made Tenet feel more akin to a Bond film than a temporal physics-driven experimental film. If there is one thing Nolan does better than non-linear storytelling it is making a physical-effects-heavy masterpiece. This is exactly what a sequel to Tenet could be with more epic time battles over pieces of the algorithm and the inversion technology. One could also imagine the challenge of seamlessly continuing The Protagonist’s non-linear story and war with the future would be one immensely attractive to Nolan as a filmmaker. Tenet is now streaming on HBO Max with the prospect of developing a new following and boosting the film’s overall popularity.
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