That's a nice Tenet, bro
Verdict: 9/10 - Chirstopher Nolan delivers all the right notes, albeit in the wrong order, in this spectacular time-twisting blockbuster.
Release Date: 
Wednesday, August 26, 2020
Written by: 

Christopher Nolan is here to save cinema with his time-twisting blockbuster.


In Star Trek, space is the final frontier. For Christopher Nolan, it has always been time. Everything from his breakthrough memory-twister Memento to his galaxy-spanning epic Interstellar have non-linear narratives in which how we experience time and events are key.

Tenet, whose palindromic title gives you an idea about its plot, is Nolan taking this fascination to the next level.

The film starts off looking something like a typical spy caper - with a pre-credits siege in a Ukrainian opera house that could be the start of an ultra-gritty Bond reboot.

The protagonist (we are never given his name), played by John David Washington, then finds himself in the Jason Bourne-style situation of having a mission but being completely unaware of its purpose or why he has been chosen to undertake it.

All he is given is a word, Tenet, an overlapping finger gesture, and the knowledge he must stop a threat that is larger than nuclear armageddon (no pressure!).

Things gradually become clearer in an opening act in which he whizzes around the world meeting people who can give him snippets of information.

Clemence Poesy shows him ammunition that moves backwards through time, courtesy of "reverse entropy" - with causation moving in the opposite direction to our eyes, even as the world around it moves forwards.

Robert Pattinson's dilettante operative Neil helps him bungee jump upwards to meet an Indian arms dealer who points him towards Sator (Kenneth Branagh), a mysterious Russian oligarch.

It's then on to London to meet Sator's English wife Kat (Elizabeth Debicki) via an obligatory Michael Caine cameo, in order to get close to him.

At times this can all feel perfunctory and full of exposition, despite a multitude of exotic locations.

The potential love triangle between our protagonist, Sator, and Kat is cold almost to the point of parody - as if Nolan has seen criticisms of his style as mechanical and decided to stick two fingers up at his critics.

Yet after a second and third act filled with some of the most spectacular filmmaking you will ever see - including time-reversed fisticuffs, a jumbo jet explosion, reverse car chases, and battle scenes in which time moves in both directions at once - it becomes clearer why this coldness is a necessary choice.


This is because Tenet, without giving too much away, is a meditation on time and humanity's place in it.

It is best thought of as a companion, not so much to Nolan's space-bending filmmaking in Inception, but to the amnesia-driven Memento. A story told out of order, whose plot twists and central themes - ranging from environmental destruction to mortality, morality, and free will - only fall into place once it becomes whole.

In Memento, the protagonist was one man battling memory loss to discover who killed his wife.

This time it's a raft of characters led by Washington as stand-ins for humanity, trying to piece together what went wrong in the future so they can discover what they (or we) need to do in a constantly moving present.

Having said that, Tenet isn't a film you need a philosophy degree to enjoy. The beautifully-shot action carries you through, even when the reasons behind it are profoundly confusing.

Plus, there are some enjoyable performances from the stoically charismatic Washington, a rakish Pattinson, and Branagh in full scenery-chomping villain mode.

But it's one you have to sit back and allow to take you for the ride - you may be surprised, if confused at first, about where you end up.

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