If you take away the twisted, science-fiction aspect of Tenet, which makes it much more unique, what you have here is Christopher Nolan’s version of Bond. The first act is a spy movie and a very good one. John David Washington is a CIA operative dispatching goons, using realistic gadgets and making his job look both easy and cool. If this was a straight spy thriller, it would be fantastic.
This is a Christopher Nolan movie though so it was never going to be that simple. Instead we are dealing with a twisted plot which includes time manipulation, codes, world travelling and often some confusing plot points. This is not a film you watch while scrolling through your phone.
For those that are paying attention, it is a movie which pays off impressively. The time-reversing conceit is one full of potential and Nolan uses it effectively. There are some very impressive visuals, from the showcase set-piece involving a plane-crash through to the finale which is a fire-fight played simultaneously backwards and forwards. If you wanted to disregard the plot and just follow the set-pieces and cool action, there is just about enough here to entertain.
It is well worth trying to follow that plot though. Nolan makes intelligent blockbusters but even by his previous, very high standards, Tenet straddles the fine line between clever and confusing. For those willing to follow, concentrate and stick with it, there is plenty of reward. This is a film which leaves breadcrumb clues, conversations from the first act pay-off massively in the third-act and like the best movies involving time, there is plenty of twists and inter-connected scenes which don’t make sense until you’ve seen it all. If you can stick with it, it makes for a very rewarding watch.
Unfortunately, even Nolan bites off slightly more than he can manage in the final act and it all becomes slightly too much. This may be where I lost the plot (pun intended) but when the action took over, the plot began to lose itself and it struggled to maintain the momentum or stay the right side of that clever/confusion line. By the end though, it manages to correct itself.
Plot muddles and cool visuals aside, the cast deliver as Nolan casts always do. John David Washington is becoming a solid and impressive leading man, holding both the drama and action with little issue. Elizabeth Debicki gives a performance which will highlight the weakness in any one-dimensional Bond girl and Kenneth Branagh’s villain is as terrifying as he needs to be without becoming pantomime. Robert Pattinson almost steals the movie in yet another performance which makes you wonder if there is any sort of character he can’t play.
Overall, Christopher Nolan delivers his version of a spy thriller and it is impressive. Add the usual twisted and unique plot device that makes Nolan’s film such event movies and you get another intelligent blockbuster. It makes you work for it though and begins to struggle under the weight of its own premise in the final act.
Rating – 4.5
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