Tenet Review: It’s Hard Not to Be Impressed

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Rating: 

7.5/10

Cast:

John David Washington as The Protagonist

Robert Pattinson as Neil

Elizabeth Debicki as Kat

Dimple Kapadia as Priya

Michael Caine as Sir Michael Crosby

Kenneth Branagh as Andrei Sator

Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Ives

Himesh Patel as Mahir

Clémence Poésy as Laura

Martin Donovan as Victor

Written & Directed by Christopher Nolan

Tenet Review:

DISCLAIMER: ComingSoon.net does not condone attending screenings at indoor movie theaters/cinemas at this time due to risks of contracting COVID-19. This review was supplied by a writer outside our staff in England who had already seen the film “Tenet” on their own accord. The author was not assigned to attend the screening by ComingSoon.net editors.

2020 has been a truly wild year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with a large part of the world being under lockdown for months, and some areas still quarantined. However, one “visionary” director had a movie he believed would save movie theatres after months of closure. This “visionary” is Christopher Nolan, and the film is Tenet—but it’s being marketed in such as way that it should be all capitalised as “TENET,” as if it’s the saviour of cinema, and maybe even the cure for COVID-19 itself.

Nolan’s films are always an event, and with Tenet being the first major studio film release across the globe since March, it most certainly is that. The strange thing about Tenet being ahead of, for example, Wonder Woman 1984, is that it’s a far riskier release than a known quantity, like a sequel to a fun spandex spectacular. However, Nolan was adamant that his film would be first, despite it being delayed three times. It’s also risky because it stars the up and coming young actor John David Washington (Denzel’s son) as “The Protagonist” (that is literally the character’s name), whose most high-profile film to date was BlackKklansman. Then there’s the puzzle-box nature of the film, which is bound to cause divisions in the audience, but could also attract second or third viewings—only time will tell.

In a nutshell, Tenet is basically Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys if it was incorporated into a James Bond-style spy film. The Protagonist is recruited by a shadowy government agency to help bring a stop to World War 3, and thus the extinction of all life on the planet. The only way to stop this is using Time Inversion, which is basically a form of reverse time travel, where the entropy of objects is reversed to allow you to travel back in time. The contact from the government is old Hal Hartley regular Martin Donovan, who is always a pleasure to see on the big screen. He was also in Nolan’s first studio film, Insomnia. Soon Robert Pattinson’s dashing yet slightly debauched Neil arrives, who essentially becomes the wingman for The Protagonist and in many regards ends up being the most important character in the whole film. R-Patz claims he based the mannerisms of the character on proto-neocon Christopher Hitchens, and you can see it, especially when he is disappointed that The Protagonist doesn’t drink on the job. This puts him in a rare club of actors that includes Bruce Willis, who played the Hitchens-inspired character Peter Fallow in The Bonfire of the Vanities.

From its opening scene centering around a terror crisis, which is the sequence that played before Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker film on IMAX, the film is just pure cinematic spectacular. The film puts both the best and worst of Nolan on full show. It never lets up, and by the middle you are exhausted, which is not necessarily a bad thing. However, Nolan is a director who can’t write women to save his life, and he is terrified of any kind of sexuality… this is the man who made Catwoman deeply “unsexy” in The Dark Knight Rises, whereas Tim Burton’s Batman Returns was the horniest film of 1992! Elizabeth Debicki’s Kat is the only female character of note in all of Tenet, and is just there as a cog in the mechanism of the plot—she acts as a way for Washington and Pattinson’s characters to get to the villain of the piece, Kenneth Branagh’s Russian oligarch Andrei Sator. The other women in the film are simply present to spout exposition, but Nolan is an equal opportunist: to be fair, most of the men are put in the same position, like Michael Caine in his glorified cameo.

If The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was like a greatest hits album of David Fincher’s films, Tenet is the equivalent for Nolan. The set pieces come one after another, from the opening sequence to the big car chase, a backwards bungie jump and, of course, the grand finale. The scenery is also breath-taking, with the film being shot in Denmark, India, Italy, Norway, the United Kingdom, the United States and even Estonia—it’s first large-scale film partially shot in Estonia since Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker. The cinematography by Nolan’s new go-to Hoyte van Hoytema adds to the scope of the film. It never quite achieves that moment of jaw-dropping cinematic bliss, like the opening of Dunkirk or the tesseract in Interstellar. All the typical mind-bending science fiction you would expect from the director of Inception is present, and, no, it’s not a sequel, although it could in theory share the same Nolan cinematic universe.

The futuristic battle sequences in the desert, glimpses of which were shown in the “final trailer,” are all from the final act. The general action of the film is for the most part very reminiscent of the opening sequence of Inception, before you are taken into the dream within a dream. All of the Time Inversion bullet impacts and explosions are impressive, often due to their simplicity: it’s mainly just shooting the action backwards and forwards. Perhaps the most dazzling sequence is the airplane crash heist, mainly because they blew up a real Boeing 747, and it’s all in camera with real flames. Sadly, using real fire is becoming a scarcity in films today, and CGI fire almost always looks fake.

The performances are fine. Nobody in particular stands out, although Pattinson has a couple of humorous moments and radiates serious movie-star charisma, even if it’s by far one of his weaker performances in recent years. In his first big-budget starring role, John David Washington pulls his weight, but much like the name of his character, it’s a nothing role in lieu of the mechanics of the puzzle Nolan is presenting to the audience. He’s just the man who’s trying to slot all the pieces in the correct place to save humanity.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson in completely unrecognisable as Ives, who is part of the team The Protagonist and Neil assemble for the final onslaught of the film. He is mainly there for more exposition. It’s the kind of role any actor could play, but I guess you never turn down the Nolan.

It goes without saying that Tenet is a must-see, even if it’s just so you can be a part of the conversation. If you aren’t quite ready to go to the movies again, you are probably safe to stay home a little longer. The film cost upwards of a quarter of a billion dollars to produce, so it might be playing longer than the typical movie in theatres, and that means even the hesitant should get a chance to see it on the big screen. Nolan has made better films, but Tenet is a culmination of his distinctive filmmaking, so it’s hard not to be impressed.