“Christopher Nolan’s latest offering represents a bold and breathtaking step forward for cinema. Although it’s not his best work – TENET is a mindblowing spectacle and a welcome shot of originality”
Christopher Nolan movies aren’t just movies – they’re cinematic events. The visionary director has made a career out of pushing the boundaries of modern cinema and producing breathtaking spectacles for us to feast our eyes on. Batman Begins was a dark and intense reimagining of the Batman origin story, The Dark Knight was nothing short of a masterclass in directing, and Inception was a bold and daring adventure into the unknown – but can he continue that trend with his latest offering?
TENET | Warner Bros. Pictures
Nolan’s recent efforts have gone above and beyond to push the boundaries of what we understand the modern cinematic experience to be. With successes like Interstellar and Dunkirk under his belt, the director has literally carved out a niche so unique that his only competition in the quest for cinematic brilliance is himself. Enter TENET.
After what has seemed like an eternity in lockdown and armed with only one word, we are invited into the multiplexes once again for another breathtaking journey into the mind of a cinematic titan whose imagination knows no bounds. Let me be clear. TENET is not your average run of the mill fare, this is another bold and breathtaking step forward for cinema. A mindblowing and welcome adrenaline shot of originality that only Nolan in his brilliance can deliver.
Given the current medical crisis facing the world, it was rumored that the movie bypass multiplexes completely and end up being released to the PVOD market, but as soon as the lights fade and TENET begins, we find out why releasing this movie on that format was a non-starter. This movie was made for the big screen – with all the trappings of the real world banished at the door. Cut from the same cerebral cloth as Inception, TENET stars John David Washington as The Protagonist, a super spy with a lethal skill set who’s recruited (following an explosive opening sequence) to prevent a temporal World War III. The villainous Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh) has plans to bring about the end of the world and it’s up to The Protagonist to prevent his evil plan from coming to pass. How he plans to do this needs to be experienced on the big screen, but it’s no spoiler for me to say that his plan hinges on the discovery of the ‘inversion’ of time.
‘Inversion’ theory pushes the boundaries of what we expect from a Nolan actioner and serves as the foundations for what transforms TENET from an average spy thriller into a typical Christopher Nolan EVENT. Armed with little context about what ‘inversion’ entails, we are dragged down the proverbial rabbit hole on an adventure of discovery that will have us second-guessing every move as it unfolds on the screen. And that is nothing short of what we have come to expect from Nolan. His screenplay is bold, adventurous, and surprisingly witty, a quality bolstered by the brilliance of screen legend Michael Caine in his regular and all too brief cameo. The British are even mocked for their snobbery in a delightful quip that achieved the impossible by making an auditorium full of mask-wearing journalists chuckle with glee.
These interactions never outstay their welcome, even when they delve into the physics of temporal espionage, but they are easily outdone by the visually immersive set pieces that are equally as imaginative as Inception. It was revealed in the run-up to its release that the number of CGI shots in TENET was less than the average blockbuster, and it certainly shows. The practical effects are glorious, and although on the surface they appear simplistic, they never fail to dazzle the senses when ‘inversion’ comes into play. The same can be said about the locations chosen for the movie. Whether it’s the skyscrapers of Mumbai, the streets of London, or the Italian Riveria and its delightful cliff faces, the beauty of the locations easily outweighs the need for computer-generated imagery. Presented in glorious 70mm IMAX, the movie is a visual treat and a welcome assault on the senses, especially from the inversion sequences, and it is here that the score from Ludwig Göransson comes into play. At first, one could be forgiven for thinking that regular Nolan collaborator, Hans Zimmer had been commissioned to craft the score, until Göransson bends his music like Nolan bends time to deliver a pulse-pounding soundtrack that is both unexpected and welcome.
Sadly, walking hand in hand with its brilliance comes its complexity, and it’s here where many cinephiles will struggle to keep up with the twist and turns as they unfold. The grandeur of its design often leaves you struggling to decipher which side of the temporal inversion many characters reside – and when all hell breaks loose its easy to find yourself lost in multiple elements. However, I’m sure repeated viewing will help clarify things and add some much-needed perspective. For me, this is where the negative aspects end. Now onto the positives.
Helping us to untangle the temporal maze are the true heroes of the piece – the cast. Nolan has pulled the proverbial rabbit out of the hat and assembled a cast list chocked full of legitimate talent – and leading the charge is John David Washington. Fresh off the back of a stellar performance in BlacKkKlansman, Washington slips into the nameless role as The Protagonist with ease and delivers an intense, gritty, and alluring performance. The same can be said about Kenneth Branagh as Andrei Sator, a cold and merciless Russian oligarch who wouldn’t think twice about slitting your throat. REALLY! Branagh delivers a truly noteworthy performance here and demonstrates his true range as an actor. However, for me, every one of these fine actors is upstaged by Robert Pattinson who turns in a wonderfully memorable performance as Neil, the Protagonist’s handler. His dry British humor and typical stiff upper lip walk hand and hand with his refreshingly fearless spy persona and his allure is missed whenever he is off-screen. If TENET represents a taste of what he will bring to his incarnation of Bruce Wayne in The Batman, I cannot wait to see him slip into the cape and cowl and carry the torch forward for the next few years.
By now it should be abundantly clear that TENET is a perfectly satisfying reintroduction to the cinema. It is pure, imaginative escapism at its best, even when the director drags us down the ‘inversion’ rabbit hole. Whether cinephiles can be persuaded to emerge from the safety of their homes and make the pilgrimage back to cinemas remains to be seen. But, one thing is for certain. TENET is a major step up from the typical fare being revisited and replayed in multiplexes across the world at the moment. It will tantalize every sense, challenge your thinking, and take you to places you never knew existed. Although it may not be Nolan‘s best work – every movie lover will enjoy the ride – and that’s what cinema is made for.
TENET is distributed by Warner Bros. and is released on August 26, 2020.
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Phil Roberts is the Owner, Daily Content Manager, and Editor-In-Chief of The Future of the Force. He is passionate about Star Wars, Batman, DC, Marvel, Star Trek, Indiana Jones, Ghostbusters, King Kong, and the Ray Harryhausen movies. Follow him on Twitter @philthecool where he uses the force and babbles frequently!