In 2020 the world is in crisis, COVD-19 has put a halt to life as we know it. Cinemas across the world lie empty, popcorn rotting in bags, precious film releases being put on hold. The fate of cinema is in the balance. Could it be that the film-going experience as we know it is over? Only one film can save us. Christopher Nolan’s Tenet will either make or break.
Okay, so it sounds like the hyperbolic rhetoric of a film trailer but it isn’t that far from the truth. In an era in which superhero saturation has become the staple of the big screen it is not a Marvel or Batman movie that cinema is using to coax us back. No, instead it is an original piece of filmmaking, not based on a pre-existing piece of intellectual property, in other words; a Christohper Nolan film. Which might seem surprising given he is arguably one of the key reasons for the superhero craze – remember, his Dark Knight trilogy was into its second film by the time Marvel’s Iron Man was released – but a gamble that someone had to take.
And a gamble it is. Because Tenet is not your average blockbuster. Instead it is a typically cerebral piece of filmmaking from a director more than happy to keep his audience at arm’s, socially distanced length.
When he takes a suicide pill rather than give up his colleauges an agent (John David Washington) is recruited to an organisation called Tenet. Tenet’s directive is simple, stop the end of the world as we know it. Because oligarch Sator (Kenneth Branagh) has discovered a way to invert time, something that threatens existence as we know it. Recruiting Neil (Robert Pattinson) the pair discover that much of Sator’s drive hinges on his estranged wife Kat (Elizabeth Debicki) and so embark on finding a way to convince her to help them to save the world.
If it sounds convoluted, it is, and this is just the tip of the time-bending confusion on offer. In many ways Tenet is near impossible to follow everything outside of the main plot. There is no questioning this is Nolan’s least accessible workl. But it is also, unquestionably, the most ambitious and jaw-dropping action committed to film in a long time.
Like his dreamworld of Inception, the rules of Tenet are not always clear. This is essentially a time-travel film akin to Back To The Future but with added reverse flying bullets. For a man who has always wanted to make a James Bond film, Christopher Nolan has essentially now made two. Because like Inception, Tenet is an excuse for cool-under-fire heroes, stunning locations and breathtaking set-pieces.
Visually it is incredible, the action goes both forward, backwards, often both at the same time, and makes the bullet-time from The Matrix films look like child’s play by comparison. The collection of characters are all thoroughly engaging, if typically cold. Nolan is often so keen to have his characters keep well-guarded secrets that he forgets to give them a smidge of humanity. The exception, thankfully, is Pattinson’s Neil who brings a grace to proceedings with enough eloquent sophistication that should Nolan ever need a Bond, he has the ideal candidate right here. Washington and Debicki promise much with their chemistry but there simply isn’t time (ironic, right?) to do anything other than scratch the surface of their characters.
For many, Tenet will be too much. Overly-complicated to follow, as cold as a Michael Mann film and with a soundtrack loud enough to drown out your very thoughts, let alone the dialogue on offer. But, it IS the film to rescue cinema. Because it showcases the very best film has to offer. Tenet is an epic event that has to be witnessed on the biggest screen possible. What Nolan has made is a film that hacks into your brain, it is his very own Inception, planting an idea so mind-bending in your visual cues that you will struggle to see the world in the same way upon exiting the cinema.
Unfortunately, time, and the box office has proved Tenet wasn’t strong enough to beat the COVID chaos. But that should not detract from what is a thoroughly engaging and enjoyable film. The perfect film to get confused by during your locked down Christmas.
Like a corkscrew rollercoaster Tenet will have you spinning and exhilarated in equal measure. Don’t try to keep up, strap-in, sit back and allow Nolan to remind you what seeing something on the big screen really means.