Tenet is my first movie I've seen in a theater since the COVID-19 pandemic this past March. Please pay close attention because there will be a test on this review at the end.
Pure Christopher Nolan. That's probably the best way to describe Tenet. From a technical perspective, there's a lot to admire, but I don't think this is in the top tier of Nolan's best films.
It stars John David Washington as a character known simply as the Protagonist whose been recruited to join a spy operation known as Tenet which is out to prevent global annihilation. Robert Pattinson costars as Neil, his partner and fellow agent assigned to teach him all about the organization.
Tenet is a keyword to get agents in and out of dangerous situations, but more than that, they find a way to use time to their advantage by bending or "inverting" it as the movie proclaims. This provides a series of sequences in which we get to see how it works combined with typical Nolan exposition.
Their mission is to stop a Russian arms dealer (Kenneth Branagh) who has a device that could trigger the next world war. Elizabeth Debecki costars as his ex-wife who has a personal vendetta against him and is all too eager to assist.
Most of Tenet does feel like an original work, but in terms of its structure, I couldn't help but be reminded of Memento where scenes manage to go back and forth, but that works for the convenience of the plot.
As for the action, Nolan proves to be a true filmmaker of taste and talent creating action that feels visceral and audacious such as a plane going through a building and a car chase involving cars driving backwards are sensationally executed.
Most of Nolan's films are complex, but he always finds a way to make the convolutions come full circle. This film feels like it's on an endless loop of complexity and not all of it is a satisfying payoff.
Washington and Pattinson try to navigate us through Nolan's labyrinthine maze of a plot, but some elements either technically or narratively prove to be frustrating.
The fact that Nolan still stages a lot of his action sequences in camera with minimal reliance on CGI speaks volumes. The plane sequence going through is a prime example and so are the chase sequences. They are nothing less than exhilarating and deserve to be seen in IMAX.
Given Nolan's propensity for crafting screenplays with meticulous attention to detail and highly complicated plots that get simplified once we start engaging our brains, this should've been in the same vein. As it is, Nolan actually executes a beautiful letdown.
Still when the action kicks in, it's a visual extravaganza that does prove gripping and above all else, it's wholly original. If anyone could figure out the plot after one viewing, that would impress me as much as any spectacle Nolan can concoct.
In the meantime, time's up. Pass in your papers at once.
(Rated PG-13 for violence and action.)
This review is dedicated to the memory of Judy Proudfoot.