Tenet


What with pandemics and social anxiety making the world around us an ever more stressful environment, you may be forgiven for feeling the urge to want to go forward in time to when things will (hopefully) be a little more settled. Well not to worry, because Christopher Nolan – big budget cinema’s prime name in the business of head fucking – is back and he’s leading the charge of blockbusters coming back into multiplexes with his most head scratching brain breaker yet…
It’s a ballsy move considering that in this time of Coronvirus and social distancing, online streaming is king and any film hurled into cinemas at this time stands the very real risk of underperforming – an issue that’s made all the more urgent by the fact that Nolan’s movies are incredibly expensive to produce.
But I’m not here to debate box office returns or the salvation of cinema itself, I’m here to give the verdict on the first summer movie to actually escape the hell of shifting release dates and everyone can rest easy – it’s a bloody doozy…
A government agent known only to us by the catchy moniker of “The Protagonist” discovers after foiling a terrorist attack that someone has managed to weaponize time and are able to make bullets and even people move in reverse of the time stream that we experience. Known as being “inverted”, this state of being is obviously a massive threat to national security and before you can say “wait, isn’t this just a smarter version of Timecop?”, the Protagonist finds himself recruited to find the supplier of these backwards bullets by using the abused wife of a brutal russian arms dealer (Kenneth Branagh recycling his dead-eyed Soviet gangster from Jack Ryan) as a way in. Teaming up with mysterious and foppish Neil, the Protagonist attempts to negotiate the tricky world of international arms dealers with only the word “Tenet” to act as a guide, but as our fiercely moral hero gets deeper and deeper into events that easily could lead to World War III, he finds himself drawn towards his target’s desperate wife, Kat.
When the true scale of what he’s facing is finally revealed (believe me, the world he’s playing in is far more massive than you could possibly imagine) he finds that while some people may be reaching the ends of their journeys, he may only be starting his…


Playing like James Bond got his hands of Doctor Strange’s time warping Infinity Stone, Nolan pulls out possibly his most fiendishly complex plot yet which, much like Inception, immerses us into a world where shadowy agents attempt to traverse a world where reality writhes like a contortionist who’s just taken a solid blow to the testicles. However, for Tenet’s first half you begin to openly wonder if this time travel thing is merely a gimmick as it initially seems to have precious little to do with the actual story Nolan is telling. Of course, the notoriously tricksy director is setting us up to have our minds collectively blown but until that moment of intellectual detonation he lets John David Washington (son of Denzel and hugely impressive in BlacKkKlansman) and a talented cast take the strain of being our guide in this minefield of time streams and brain bubbling exposition.
Be warned, while you’ll most likely pick up the basic gist if you had no problem getting your grey matter around Inception’s wibbly wobbly concepts, everything that happens from the game changing centre point may require a couple of rewatches as our chronology-impaired heroes literally zig-zag all over the film’s timeline like a booze addled fly.
It’s exhilarating, heady stuff and leaves plenty room for action sequences that are so complicated it’ll cross your damn eyes. An early bout of fisticuffs between Washington and a backwards moving assailant is hideously weird in the best kind of way and a final act dares you to keep up with a full scale incursion launched by two separate platoons, from both ends of the battle, both running in completely opposite time steams. It’s by far the most daring set piece the filmmaker has ever tried (even more so than a gravity-free corridor fight or using a black hole to span time and space) and it’s by far the most accomplished action Nolan has achieved to date despite being initially impenetrable. But there’s a sneaking suspicion that Nolan’s finally outsmarted even himself with Tenet’s copious self-explanation which is noticeably less nimble footed or elegant than what he accomplished in Inception – a problem not exactly helped by Ludwig Göransson’s blaring score trying to out-Zimmer Nolan’s previous collaborator which all but obliterates some vital dialogue. Let’s just say some subtitles would be a godsend…
Also, while the fact remains that Nolan does indeed take the concept of overlapping timelines and runs with it as far as he can, the cinematic notion of people moving in two directions in time while sharing the same screen isn’t exactly as new as some claim. I’ve already name dropped 2016’s Doctor Strange which, while itself ironically borrowed heavily from Nolan’s Inception, also featured a fist fight contained in a reversing time stream; but even before THAT, the idea was heavily mined for comedy in the fan favorite episode of Red Dwarf know as Backwards. Another noticable “borrow” I couldn’t help but notice is that much in the way the director “upgraded” the plane sequence that opened Bond flick Licence To Kill in The Dark Knight Rises, the scene where a massive (and very real) jet crashes spectacularly into a (also real) hanger and explodes is an super sizing of a similar conflagration pulled off by John Woo in Face/Off (which was, you guessed it, ALSO pulled off for real).
Of course none of the above should detract from Tenet being an experience quite unlike anything else in cinemas this year but stacked up against Nolan’s hugely impressive back catalogue it’s a movie that feels more like it’s to be studied rather than enjoyed (I still know people who still haven’t grasped Inception); but who knows, maybe in a few years, when we’ve all worked out exactly what’s going on in some of the more frenetic moments, we’ll hold his latest entry more favourably against his greatest hits.


Regardless, with this release, movies are firmly backbone the big screen where they belong and might like Tenet itself, it’s about time…

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