Tenet Review: Christopher Nolan’s Sci-Fi Spectacle Is An Exhilarating, Exhausting And Mesmerising Mess

Welcome to the land of confusion, according to Christopher Nolan.

Tenet  (PG13)

Starring John  David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Kenneth Branagh, Elizabeth Debicki

Directed by Christopher Nolan

A head-spinning blend of spy games and highfalutin science, Tenet, Christopher Nolan’s globetrotting spectacle, is as exhilarating and cool as it is exhausting and confusing. 

The main thing to know about Tenet is that it involves the concept of time inversion, which is not the same as time-travel.  Nolan, in an Entertainment Weekly interview, said, “It deals with time and the different ways in which time can function… inversion is this idea of material that has had its entropy inverted, so it’s running backwards through time.” Come again? 

All you need to know is that there are there are characters who can move in reverse. It’s cheem stuff. I have a migraine from just thinking about Tenet, let alone writing a review of it. I’ll leave the science parts to be explained by the likes of Neil deGrasse or Brian Cox, and just stick to the non-sci-fi-y bits…

> Nolan has described Tenet as “an action epic evolving from the world of international espionage”. Translation: He’s made a sci-fi James Bond movie with an African-American as 007. Radical! As The Protagonist (he doesn’t have an actual name), BlacKkKlansman's John David Washington is all swagger and a total badass. If they are making a prequel to The Equalizer (starring his father, Denzel), give JD a call.

> The Protagonist’s job is to save the world from Kenneth Branagh’s Andrei Sator, a menacing Russian oligarch who has mastered the time-inversion technology and threatened to use it as a WMD. Or something like that. The set-up is simple but somehow it snowballs into something impenetrably baffling. Think the time-shifting games in Avengers: Endgame is confusing? That’s child’s play compared to the ones in Tenet.

> Robert Pattinson, as Neil, The Protagonist’s sort-of partner, is a revelation. He doesn’t look sickly or wimpy for a change. He has good chemistry with Washington. It’s nice to see him doing action in a blockbuster of this size. Great warm-up for The Batman.

> Speaking of action, how did Nolan film those weird-looking reverse fights? The more I think about them, the more my head hurt. What’s the aspirin when I need one?

> The score by Ludwig Göransson, the Oscar-winning composer of Black Panther, is loud, electrifying, and out-of-control. It’s designed to make you stay awake. (I can see Nolan fist-pumping to the music in the editing suite.) If that doesn’t, the Boeing 747 crash will. That’s a spectacle that needs to be seen on the big screen.

> But the music can be distracting, too. Between the score, Branagh's thick Russian accent and the wall-to-wall sound effects, it's a struggle to keep up with the dialogue sometimes. If you’re not attentive enough, you risk missing chunks of crucial exposition. Which brings me to the next point.

> You’ll be saying “WTF?” incessantly. Like every five minutes. Especially after the highway chase sequence. (That’s not a spoiler, by the way — it’s in the trailer.) So stay sharp. Don’t check your WhatsApp messages and make sure you hit the loo before the 150-min movie starts. 

> The ground assault in the last act, where the past and future collide, is the mother of all WTFs. Half the time I was in awe of how Nolan pulled off this monster moment, the other half I was trying to figure out what the hell is going on. Who's from the past and who's from the future again? So much so that I decided to threw in the towel, sit back and just enjoy (or is it endure?) the mesmerising chaos. Early on, one character says — and this is a recurring line — “Ignorance is ammunition.” Good advice. Take it. And be prepared to watch it again. (***)​​​​​​​


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