The last time I went to the cinema was when I saw Parasite on 17th February. The following month, the Covid-19 lockdown forced the closure of cinemas nationwide, and almost all of the big releases planned for the summer – including the one I was most looking forward to, Top Gun: Maverick – were necessarily put back. Now, with restrictions being eased, we can at last to return to the cinema, albeit wearing face coverings and following social distancing instructions. This hardly mattered in my case, as I went at what would have been a quiet time under normal circumstances, and there were only two other people in the screening. The film I went to see was director Christopher Nolan’s latest mindbender, Tenet.
Following an attack on an opera house in Kiev, a secret agent known only as the Protagonist (John David Washington) is introduced to a phenonemon known as “inversion”, whereby the personal time direction of objects is reversed; inverted bullets, for instance, fire into a gun instead of from it, and jump into someone’s hand instead of falling. Inverted weapons appear to have travelled back to the present day from the future and are now being distributed, and the Protagonist is charged with tracing their origin. Accompanied by a handler, Neil (Robert Pattinson), he follows a long trail around the world, only to discover that the threat posed by the future is greater than he realised.
This science-fiction thriller has many similarities to Nolan’s earlier film Inception, one of which is action sequences that enjoy some freedom from the laws of physics. A fist fight between two people certainly becomes unique when one of them is moving backwards through time compared to the other. There are plenty such sequences involving inversion, many of which will make you wonder just what was involved in filming them. Even the relatively straightforward action sequences are raised above the average by Nolan’s appreciation for practical effects, such as a scene that involved crashing a real Boeing 747 into a building.
Also like Inception, while the principles behind the science fiction are complex, the important stuff sticks and you ultimately don’t need to know all the nitty-gritty details to understand what’s happening. Unfortunately, understanding the main story outside of the science fiction is more difficult, as it’s rather complicated with a few too many intertwining threads. This is not helped by the fact that you can’t always hear what the characters are saying over the background; the sound mixing isn’t as bad as Interstellar, but still irritatingly flawed. I wasn’t a fan of the score, which was composed by Ludwig Goransson instead of Nolan’s usual choice, Hans Zimmer; the film blasts you with thunderous, grating noise for enough of its length that quieter scenes come as a relief.
While Tenet is far from Christopher Nolan’s best, it’s still a decent thriller that keeps you engaged, and the action and visuals are definitely worth a look. If you liked Inception, you’ll probably get something out of it. Rating: 3.5/5.