Gather ‘round all you puzzle lovers. Have I got a challenge for you! With twisty logic, time-altering physics, and an alternate existence that defies reality, the highly anticipated new thriller called Tenet is the mental challenge that puzzle masters have trained their entire lives for. For all others, the film is exactly what the country needs right now to get us back into the theaters.
Tenet is a loud, boisterous, eye-popping spectacle that will absolutely blow your socks off with dazzling visuals and immersive exhibition, even if solving puzzles isn’t your thing. But will it be enough to lift a pandemic-hobbled Hollywood off the canvas and save the industry from bankruptcy? Only time will tell. But one thing is for certain: Tenet is finally here, and it is in theaters.
Of course, the film is from Christopher Nolan whose fascination with time and its effect on storytelling first reared its head in his breakout film Memento, and has since become a recurring character in most of his films, including Inception which explored dreams within dreams, and Dunkirk which saw three concurrent, but non-contiguous timelines play out during the same film. And that trend continues in Tenet as “the protagonist” played by John David Washington (BlacKkKlansman), must fight for the survival of the entire world in a mission through a twilight universe of international espionage that will unfold in something other than real time.
Nolan calls it inversion, but it is indeed time travel, and the ability to travel through time is a tool that has been weaponized by a villainous Russian arms dealer named Andrei Sator (a scene-chewing Kenneth Branagh). It is up to “the protagonist” to not only learn the concept of inversion, but to master its use so he can stop Sator’s evil plan of starting World War III.
It seems Sator has figured out a way to meddle with the future to change the outcome of the past. Or is it the other way around? He meddles with the past so that “the protagonist” won’t be able to go into the future to foil his plan. Or is the future the present? I don’t know, but the future will only remain the same if you change it, maybe. What’s my name? Where are we? What in the hell am I doing here? The concept is a fascinating twist on the idea of time travel itself, and makes for a captivating, if not totally confounding foray into the personal headspace of one of today’s brightest filmmakers.
As the labyrinthine plot progresses, we’re given long bouts of expository dialogue with hopes of clearing up some of the confusion. But some of it is barely audible and only manages to muddy the water even more as “the protagonist” partners up with shady colleague Neil (Robert Pattinson, Twilight) before the two enlist the aid of Sator’s emotionally-abused wife, Kat (Elizabeth Debicki, Guardians of the Galaxy II) to target her husband before he can put his nefarious world-ending plan into place. We traverse back and forth via a science-y time portal device thing-y that allows jumps to future, and past, and back to the present. They must be careful though. Seeing yourself in an alternate timeline and exchanging molecules between your future and present self could prove deadly.
At some point during the film’s opening third, I finally gave up trying to keep all the loosely-bound plot threads and perplexing timelines straight. And it became a much more entertaining watch once I did. There’s a line of dialogue fairly early on that goes something like, “Don’t try to understand it. Feel it.” Is it Nolan reaching out from the past to tell us that it will all be okay? Well, it made sense to me as I became enamored with watching breathtaking scene after breathtaking scene – at the hands of cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema – play out on such a grand scale. Plot complexities and bombastic spectacle aside, simply trying to figure how they filmed this thing will occupy your mind for days.
There’s a reason Warner Bros. was adamant about delaying the film’s theatrical release and refusing to send it to home streaming channels. With unbelievable stunt work, exceptional acting, and a never-ending barrage of twists and turns, it is a movie made for the big screen. Never mind the lack of character depth, and poor sound mixing. Once you learn how to expend your energy in the right places, Tenet will reward puzzle fanatics, action junkies, and Nolan fans alike.
(Released by Warner Bros. and rated “PG-13” for violence and action, some suggestive references and brief strong language.)
Review also posted at www.franksreelreviews.com.