Spectacle. Christopher Nolan knows a thing or two on how to emblazon it all over the big screen. Together with story beats filled with intrigue, lush panoramic cinematography and mind-bending VFX and surrounded by a thumping, atmospheric and piercing soundtrack, it will always be a visual and in the case of Tenet, an emotional rollercoaster of cinema.
But let me take a moment first to acknowledge that we’re still in the era of COVID-19. The screening I went to was an afternoon matinee showing and I was happy as well to pay for an IMAX screening as I’m such a fan of the format and because it’s how Mr. Nolan intended it to be shown. There were about 7-10 people max in the audience including myself and we were all adhering to the rule of social distancing. I’ll admit that, from what I can see among the other patrons, I was the only one wearing a mask throughout the majority of the screening and although it felt generally strange to wear one for that amount of time, I was fine overall. I felt relatively safe and only took out several minutes here and there throughout the film where I pulled my mask down to eat popcorn. I regularly used hand sanitizer too. But I digress…
Tenet begins with a quiet calm and then grabs you with a big bombastic beast of a musical score. I was genuinely shocked and excited at the same time. Like previously in Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, an extended opening sequence was shown before the blockbuster that was released during the holidays back in December 2019 (Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker) and you see it again in full here – an attempted assassination during a very public event somewhere in Europe. Such is the force of the soundtrack that accompanies this opening scene, my seat was literally rumbling and it wasn’t even one of those D-Box seats. I was strapped in for this ride and was totally invested in it.
We follow our hero, John David Waashington, as The Protagonist (literally, in the end credits, that’s what his character is referred to) run around to stop what is happening. We discover that he’s a top CIA operative and as the film progresses, he is tasked to end an event that, as one character puts it “is worse than Armageddon”.
He pairs up with Robert Pattinson who aids him in carrying out the mission which involves reverse bungee-jumping, a time-bending car chase, a 747 jumbo jet crashing into a ware house and in one elaborate action set-piece, they both join a special ops team of soldiers to fight and subdue a derelict location in a barren part of Russia from a paramilitary group run by the film’s antagonist. It again involves time-bending or ‘inversion’ as it’s referenced in the movie with buildings exploding and then imploding simultaneously.
It’s Nolan’s most Bond-esque entry yet. Secret agents, stunts, car chases, beautiful locations… even the paramilitary group is reminiscent of the scenes where the bond villains of old had their own army.
Amidst the time-bendy, loud, thumping clinically plotted chaos, I found that Tenet had heart and emotion too as it brings in themes of parenthood and what parents will do to protect their children alongside friendship and brotherhood. I found these aspects rather touching actually.
Admittedly, I realized that I got lost in places as the plot was fairly dense watching it for the first time but it’s nothing a second viewing won’t fix. Ultimately the result, if you go into this with an open mind (as you should with all films by Mr. Nolan, really…), is quite rewarding as you unravel the puzzle of the film’s plot and be dazzled by the spectacle that you see on screen.