Having survived a terrorist attack on a Russian opera house, John David Washington‘s CIA agent discovers that it was just a test of loyalty. What really lies ahead is a confrontation with Russian oligarch Andrei Sator as played by Kenneth Branagh. It turns out that Sator has been bringing weapons back from the future to kill people in past. So, with the world at stake and the threat of a future war consuming the present, can John David Washington‘s CIA agent save the day or be consumed by the future before it’s even happened?
... In short, this time, it's "save the girl, save the world".
No stranger to huge conceptual movies and temporally thematic narratives, each movie from director Christopher Nolan feels like an ever-expanding palette of risk. With every release, he brings us something new and in every movie, he also tries to deconstruct existing cinematic conventions into new storytelling devices. So, as one never to set the bar low for either himself or his audience, Tenet is his latest dense offering with explosive art-house credentials.
And much like its characters, Tenet‘s plot appears to take no prisoners. However, this time, if you don’t initially grasp the story, it thankfully won’t leave you behind like Inception did. You see, the nuts and bolts of this Tenet’s story are actually quite simple. Kenneth Branagh‘s dastardly oligarch is threatening world peace whilst also trapping his wife in a loveless relationship and John David Washington has to save both her and the world. – So, simple, yes? There’s really no problem this time around. However, if you look even closer, you’ll notice that this time the plot closely resembles that of another franchise which Christopher Nolan is quite often linked with: James Bond.
In short, this time, it’s “save the girl, save the world”.
So, what you actually get with Tenet is exactly how Christopher Nolan would approach a Bond movie. Cold, brutal, unapologetic and indifferent to concerns of humour, this is the Bond movie the Broccoli’s would never make and yet possibly the closest that Nolan will ever get to making one. -Are there any gadgets? Yes. -Car chases? Yes. -Sharp suits? Yes. -Luxury product placements? Yes. -Does the bad guy speak with a foreign accent? Yes… and there you have the key component – the bad guy – because in Bond movies rely upon a good villain and in Tenet, Nolan has got a great one in Kenneth Branagh’s Sator. Clearly realising that by saying less it will result in an even greater sense of malice, Branagh’s omnipotent oligarch easily trumps Hugh Laurie’s turn in The Night Manager. Also from The Night Manager, Elizabeth Debicki has got herself caught up with the wrong arms dealer gain and is tasked with helping John David Washington bringing about Sator’s demise. However, he’s not alone in this task. Robert Pattinson is here to bring a similar sense of sartorial style that Tom Hardy did into Inception as a Brit-inflected companion who’s always on hand to lend a fist when needed.
So, with the present being attacked by the future and a motorway chase that shows The Matrix Revolutions how it should really be done, Tenet is a film that never lets you catch your breath. With absolutely no real scenes where its characters stop, sit down and digest what’s just happened, Nolan has strapped you into a runaway vehicle to the future. Similar in many ways to Inception, the final act becomes a juggling festival of subplots, payoffs and buried treasures brought out from the film’s beginning.
In the end, Tenet is a movie about characters who move back forth through time with weapons which may (or may not) have been developed in the future. To make it easier for you I could describe it as Minority Report with an infinitely more labyrinthine plot; a more mature take on the themes of Terminator (minus the robots, of course) or that it runs with the paranoia of A Scanner Darkly – but these are all tangential threads woven into a new fabric because, in the end, Tenet is its own beast. So, whilst you might struggle to empathise with its characters given the speed at which it’s running at, there’s no question that Nolan has expanded his catalogue yet again by revisiting his favourite theme of time.
You might well catch all the references on a second viewing but I can confidently say that this time, unlike Inception, you won’t be scratching your head so hard once its time is up.0