‘Tenet,’ a wholly original action spy blockbuster, breathes life into an industry saturated with recycled and stale ideas.
The film was written and directed by Christopher Nolan, the genius behind modern classics like ‘Inception,’ ‘The Dark Knight’ and, my personal favorite, ‘The Prestige.’ Needless to say, I was hyped out of my mind to see this movie.
‘Tenet’ revolves around a CIA spy recruited by a secret organization to prevent World War III. Contrary to what one might expect, the looming threat isn’t nuclear holocaust. It’s the collapse of time. Far in the future, scientists have discovered how to reverse the entropy of a person or object and send it backwards in time. These objects then appear to be moving backwards like someone hit the rewind button. They call it time inversion.
“You’re not shooting the bullet. You’re catching it,” a character explains.
“Woah,” the protagonist responds.
Woah is right.
While it may seem confusing (it is) and sounds like a cheap gimmick, it’s this concept of time inversion that really makes ‘Tenet’ unique. Nolan uses it to deliver some truly mind-blowing sequences. It’s rare to say these days, but I’ve never seen anything like this movie.
The action set-pieces are as epic as they are plentiful. My favorite was a car chase in which the protagonist starts out moving forward in time and then gets reversed half-way through. There’s also a great hand-to-hand combat fight where one character is moving forward and the other is moving backward in time. It’s wild.
Another fantastic element to this movie is the musical score. Nolan recruited up-and-coming composer Ludwig Goransson who recently won an Oscar for his ‘Black Panther’ score. He also wrote the incredible theme for ‘The Mandalorian.’ His music for ‘Tenet’ is every bit as good and left me floored on several occasions.
The performances are all great too. Robert Pattinson and John David Washington have wonderful chemistry, and I really loved their dynamic. Kenneth Branagh always makes a good villain although he was a bit over-the-top at times. Surprisingly though, it was Elizabeth Debicki who stole the show. Of all the characters, she had the most emotional depth. Debicki was also great in the 2018 film ‘Widows,’ and now after ‘Tenet,’ I’m convinced she’s on the path to becoming a huge star.
Speaking of character, that’s sadly one of the film’s weakest elements. We know very little about the film’s protagonist played by John David Washington. In fact, “the protagonist” is the only name we’re ever given for him. The protagonist’s partner Neil (Robert Pattinson) doesn’t have much depth either beyond the fact that he’s a witty, British guy. The only character with any real emotional weight is Kat (Elizabeth Deckicki.)
The main problem here isn’t a lack of backstory. The performances are good enough to get you to root for these people. The real problem is there’s no internal struggle or emotional arc for the protagonist.
One of the things that makes Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece ‘Inception’ so great is the character of Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio). Throughout that film, we see Cobb fight to return home to his kids. He internally struggles with the fact that he may be responsible for the death of his wife. ‘Tenet’ doesn’t offer anything quite that compelling.
However, the ending does make you look at these characters in a different light and was actually quite emotional. I feel this could make the characters more engaging on a rewatch.
While ‘Tenet’ isn’t as perfect as previous Nolan films. It’s a non-stop thrill ride that proves the theater-going experience isn’t dead. Mask up and go see it as soon as possible.