Review: Tenet – Wait, Can We Rewind That Bit?

We’ve had dreams within dreams, a father communicating with his daughter in the past using gravity, and a man with the memory of a goldfish trying to solve a murder. Now Christopher Nolan brings an exhilarating spy movie about an international espionage mission to prevent a mysterious time reversing material from causing World War III.

The main character, Christopher Nolan is tasked with saving cinema during the biggest worldwide pandemic in 100 years… Oh wait, that’s not the plot of the film. John David Washington plays The Protagonist, who is hired by a dodgy government agency to discover who is creating bullets made from a time reversing material; when the trigger is pulled bullets will travel back into the gun, causing a powerfully fatal wound to whoever is standing in the way. The organization believes whoever has crafted these bullets could have the potential to make a reverse nuclear bomb, destroying the past as well as the present and future.

That’s right, once again Nolan is smashing up and rearranging a linear timeline. Scenes that won’t make sense the first time we see them are revisited later on to put the pieces together. So don’t fret if you don’t understand what’s going on in the first instance, it all comes together at the end in spectacular fashion. That’s if you can actually hear anything whilst characters mumble through oxygen masks and Ludwig Göransson’s bass-filled score rumbling your cinema seat. It’s now become tradition for me to worry about my hearing every time I come out of an IMAX screening of a Nolan film.

Courtesy of AMC Theatres

Tenet oozes with great action scenes, starting off with a terrorist attack on an orchestra, and slowly each fight scene involves more and more reverse action sequences. The third act of the film is a tremendously intense attack mission as one team enters the field normally whilst the other is reversed and finishing their part at the same time. It’s difficult to wrap your head around but makes for great visuals and puts a real twist on the spy genre.

Once again Nolan has opted for practical effects over CGI. His hatred for planes has progressed from dangling them off each other mid flight (The Dark Knight Rises) to actually blowing up a Boeing 747. These effects look great, especially when combined with the reversed segments as it becomes a challenge to spot all the different things happening in one shot.

Speaking of Göransson’s score, although Hans Zimmer was certainly missed as he and Nolan go together like bread and butter, Göransson was able to pull up something that worked perfectly with the film (even if the sound mixing was pretty awful). It mainly consists of low bass-filled noises and reverted notes but does a great job at helping to build up tension.

Courtesy of AMC Theatres

At times I felt Tenet took on the worst qualities of spy flicks, especially when concerning villain Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh), who is stereotypically a wealthy Russian trying to end the world for… reasons. We also have our “Bond girl” Kat (Elizabeth Debicki) who is Sator’s abused wife, so eager to be free of his grasp that she is willing to be the Protagonist’s ticket to her husband’s demise. Despite this, it’s a great take on the spy genre with its dash of the usual Nolan splendour and mind trickery.

The Protagonist is joined by Neil (Robert Pattinson), a charming agent who becomes The Protagonist’s partner in preventing Sator from destroying the human race. Although both perform well in their individual roles, I couldn’t help but feel they certainly lacked chemistry whilst working together, especially since we’re supposed to believe they’re becoming good friends. Debicki’s character is the one who displays a significant amount of emotion, but Pattinson and Washington’s coldness is quite understandable considering they’re both hard boiled agents undertaking a mission of the highest stakes whereas Kat has the weight of emotional manipulation crushing down on her.

But despite its flaws, Tenet is a highly enjoyable film which will have you on the edge of your seat. Each scene, each second of a scene is either filled with brilliant action sequences or contains important details – meaning there is not a single dull moment in the whole 2 hours and 30 minutes of run time. Its story line is masterfully written as Nolan has once again achieved a mind bender of the highest proportion which will have you thinking it through for days afterwards. You’ll leave the cinema scratching your head and want to go and see it again instantly, making it the perfect film to help save the cinema industry.

This review was written by a writer within the UK where cinemas are open with social distancing and mask-wearing rules in place.

Jessica Clayton-Berry
Hi, my name is Jess and I've been a 'movie buff' since I was around 12-years-old and watched The Shawshank Redemption for the first time. I can't think of a favourite film as there's just so many to choose from but my top directors would be Denis Villeneuve, Ridley Scott, David Fincher, Quentin Tarantino and Christopher Nolan.

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