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Movie Review: Tenet

The movies are back! And who better to bring it back than Christopher Nolan. But how does one describe a movie like Tenet?

It’s like Christopher Nolan made a Bond movie, except with a more diverse cast.

It’s like Inception met Interstellar at a really loud party hosted by The Dark Knight Rises. It’s worth seeing it once in the cinema, but you’re going to want to watch it a second time at home some time later so you can (a) pause it to figure out what the heck is going on, and (b) turn on closed captions so you can figure out what the heck the characters are saying

I’m going to go spoileriffic from here. Read on if you’ve watched it – if you haven’t, come back when you have!

Ok, so first off, let’s fast forward past the introductory fire-fight where we first encounter inverted action happening, and go to where he gets introduced to the concept. We learn the inverted metals are coming through some mechanism which we don’t know, and that anyone can interact with these in the inverted way with minimal turning. And somehow the biggest impact is through weapons dealers, because of course? They’re the ones dealing the most with this metal?

For those keeping track of the Bond movie plot, think about it so far – we’ve had the introductory action sequence, a move which takes our protagonist off the books, a visit to Q branch to show the latest in tech, and chasing up a lead in a developing country where Bond meets up with an intelligence operative from a different Anglo power who appears to be right at home in said country.

They meet up with an arms dealer, who is revealed to be not that bad (hey, it’s a lady, she’s just doing it to stay ahead in this century), because there’s a real bad guy out there somewhere that we really need to be after, and he’s going to get the McGuffin of course. And then of course we meet our damsel, who is in need of rescue (but of course) from the self-same bad guy.

The mechanics of time travel here seem unreasonably constrained, like Nolan wants a particular cinematic outcome rather than finding a coherent working theory. Nolan did it right with Inception – there’s a way to share dreams, the military developed it, here’s the suitcase that everyone plugs into while asleep. With Tenet, it’s a way to make metals go backwards, then people, and then we go from a select group of people who know a particular hand gesture to a whole paramilitary organisation (run by who? Who are these people, what happened to their families and people they love such that they’re willing to give it up to go live in the shadow backwards-and-forward world? How come no-one realised these forward/backward transfer points which seemingly exist all over the world in the freeports until just now? What are the mechanics for this and why is it seemingly so inconsistent? Why did he hang out inside the offshore wind turbine at the start?!)

All in all, it’s quite possible to not overthink it and watch it like a standard keep-the-Mcguffin-away-from-the-bad-guy movie with some funky time mechanics thrown in – but then the whole time mechanics does get in the way. Nolan needs a producer to keep him in check – this one seems to ride on the success of Inception and Interstellar letting Nolan take a high concept to the screen, but it gets in the way of telling a story the audience can follow.

As to the performances, I think John David Washington pulls off The Protagonist (literally) role quite well, though a little more emoting would’ve been welcome. Robert Pattinson actually really impresses me here, far more than I ever expected. Elizabeth Debicki is… well, I’m going to go out on a limb and say she’s extremely attractive as the femme fatale, but she’s definitely playing to type – she’s done the same role before in The Night Manager, and if you’ve seen both you know how her portrayal is going to play out. Kenneth Brannagh and Dimple Kapadia round out the big names in the cast, playing well in their roles but not given enough to really put their whole range into play.

That said: I’m ready for the sequel/prequel. I’m ready for more from this world, if only in the hope that it might make more sense with some better exposition. I’d still watch it again, if only for the spectacular visualisation of the high concept, and I’d still tell you to give it a go… once there’s a version with subtitles at the very least.

★★★☆

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