Everything about Tenet is big. Big production. Big Score. Big set pieces. However, due to the times we are living in, Tenet’s grandeur stretches beyond the film itself, as it marks the first theatrical blockbuster release in months.
Walking into my local cinema, it was immediately apparent that people needed Tenet. The IMAX screening I attended felt lively and exciting. The eyes of other like-minded movie goers, hovering above dozens of different face masks glistened with anticipation. Despite distancing measures, it felt like the cinema experience was starting to return. And thankfully, the film to kickstart this trend was able to support (at least my) lofty expectations.
As countless other outlets have already mentioned, Tenet is a hard film to pin down. It (for the most part) successfully blends many aspects of Nolan’s previous movies into one strikingly ambitious flick. It echoes the high-tempo action seen in The Dark Knight, takes structural inspiration from Memento and, if you can believe it, delivers a story that is deeper and more complex than Inception. Tenet is not a film you can half-arse, it demands and deserves your undivided attention.
Tenet is a pseudo spy thriller with some time manipulation sprinkled in for good measure. To say any more would rob anyone of their first viewing experience. It is in this first viewing that Tenet simultaneously shines and falters under the weight of its own complexity.
There are 3 distinct moments in the movie that had me gasping under my breath as everything seemed to click into place. When these moments hit, I felt like a genius. I had beaten Nolan at his own game, no film is too confusing for me. However, just before my head inflated too much, Tenet would run away from me once more. Whilst I reveled in trying to unfurl the complex plot, I can appreciate that movie-goers looking to switch off with an action movie, may see Tenet as a bit of a chore.
This isn’t to say that Tenet isn’t a good action film. In fact, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Nolan’s prowess in directing action is on full display here and his now-famous use of practical effects hasn’t gone amiss either. Watching a real cargo plane explode really is something to behold on the big screen. The music also helps elevate the action to truly heart-pumping levels. Ludwig Göransson’s score parallels what’s on screen so well that at times I was gripping my chair, knuckles flushed white. I love Hans Zimmer as much as the next person, but I’m so glad Göransson seized the opportunity to prove himself with this one.
The acting is impressive for the most part as well. John David Washington brings just the right levels of ferocity and humanity to his role and demonstrates true star power. Both Elizabeth Debicki and Robert Pattinson also deliver strong performances; Debicki’s being my favourite of the movie. Disappointingly, the performance I was most interested in seeing – Kenneth Branagh’s Andrei Sator, was the weakest. I hoped Branagh would bring genuine malice to the role, invoking fear in the audience. For the majority of his screen time, however, Sator came off as cheesy and one-note. The performance wasn’t awful by any means, I just hoped it would be more.
In spite of a few gripes, Tenet really is a spectacle worthy of your time. Nolan has shown once again he’s one of the most creative mainstream directors working today. I don’t think this is his strongest film, but it is his most ambitious. If you’re a fan of bold, daring and complex cinema (and if you feel comfortable doing so), Tenet is a journey worth taking in a theatre. Just don’t expect it to hold your hand along the way.