Tenet Review: All I have for you is a word… Nolan!

Tenet Review: All I have for you is a word… Nolan!

And so, despite the pandemic’s best efforts, director Christopher Nolan finally returns to our screens with espionage thriller Tenet. This time, the future of humanity is at stake and it’s up to a nameless ‘protagonist,’ armed with time inversion, to save it. The result is an exhilarating, head – scratcher of a film that delivers all the mind – bending spectacle Nolan fans have come to love, albeit without really bringing anything new to the table…  

Wait, what just happened?  

For the most part, Tenet is business as usual. Nolan enthusiasts will be well aware of the writer/director’s fixation on the concept of ‘time’ and Tenet continues this trend by putting it front and centre. From the very beginning, Nolan side – lines exposition in favour of a Bond – esque shoot out and for the next one hundred and fifty minutes, it’s up to the audience to decipher the meaning of the story and enjoy the inverted action. This balancing act turns Tenet into an experience that is part puzzle, part Blockbuster, which largely makes for a thoroughly enjoyable watch.  

However, one lapse of concentration is enough to complicate the narrative and when you’ve got the chaos of an exploding Boeing 747 to gawk at, it’s easy to lose yourself in the spectacle at the expense of the wider story. Nolan has always had an expectation of his audiences to keep up; think back to the likes of Inception and Interstellar which also blended beautiful visuals with complicated science. Like its predecessors, Tenet is hard to follow, but cinema fanatics wouldn’t expect anything less. By now Nolan is well established as one of the greats and looking back through his impressive filmography, it’s clear to see why. Therefore, it’s unsurprising that Tenet relies so heavily on the highly praised ‘Nolan Formulae,’ which for the most part works in the film’s favour. 

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? 

The concept of time inversion truly drives Tenet’s story and it’s one of the most interesting, yet underdeveloped additions to the Nolan roster yet. Tenet is set in a reality where scientists in the future have come up with a way to invert the flow of entropy, allowing objects and people to move backwards through time. The story follows John David Washington’s ‘Protagonist’ as he fights for control of ‘the algorithm’ which if assembled correctly, will allow the villainous ‘Andre Sater (played by Kenneth Branagh) to bring about the end of the world. This seamless blend of espionage and science fiction makes for a high – octane adventure through time, which perfectly maintains Nolan’s signature style, while being heavily reminiscent of traditional spy cinema.  

Despite this, Tenet’s narrative sometimes feels complicated for the sake of being complicated, relying on time inversion to whip the story backwards and forwards at excessive rates. Unlike Inception, in which the concept of ‘dream layers’ felt refined and completely integral, time inversion feels like a way to tick a box in the Nolan formulae and provide visually stunning, sometimes convoluted action scenes. Because of this, the interesting ensemble of characters take a back seat, resulting in slightly half – baked arcs. Time inversion does work, although it feels more frustratingly complex than the science in Nolan’s previous films, which occasionally results in the story becoming tangled in its own ideas. Even so, fantastic performances and an undeniably compelling script ensure Tenet remains afloat. 

There’s something incredibly satisfying about watching a heroic protagonist go toe to toe against brutish enemies in any action/adventure film, although Tenet’s inverted fight scenes are simply on another level. In contrast to most big budget action films, (see the Marvel franchise), Nolan passes on CGI and instead opts for practical and complex choreography, which results in surprisingly grounded, but still visually stunning punch ups. In addition, every encounter with an enemy feels relevant to the plot and without giving too much away it’s best to pay attention to the most minute details, even in heavy action scenes. There is certainly no time to switch your brain off and by the time you walk out the cinema, you should have worked up quite the mental sweat. 

In Nolan we trust…

Tenet certainly isn’t ground breaking and while its narrative isn’t quite as smooth as previous entries in Nolan’s filmography, it’s comforting to know that original stand – alone ideas are still present in an otherwise franchise – dominated Hollywood. Above all else, Tenet is a love letter to die hard cinema fanatics, who will no doubt spend hours analysing the film’s intricate plot, across multiple re – watches. Even so, most will be hoping for a slightly riskier, more ambitious project from Christopher Nolan on his next outing but until then Tenet is more than enough to whet the appetites of film fans. 

On the flip side, for those of you who are not into arthouse films and are just looking for a generic popcorn flick to satisfy your post – lockdown cinema cravings, it’s probably best to wait until the next entry in the Marvel franchise…  


About The Author

Sam Barrowcliffe

I am nineteen years old and will begin studying English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Warwick in September. Since starting at Mouthing Off as Creative Writing Editor, I have written and published a number of short stories and can’t wait to share even more. My favourite genres are horror and science – fiction and I take great inspiration from the likes of Rod Serling, Charlie Kauffman, H.P Lovecraft, Christopher Nolan and Phillip K. Dick. In the future, I hope to follow my dream of becoming a professional screenwriter and novelist, following in the footsteps of my idols. I look forward to publishing even more fiendish tales and I hope people will continue to enjoy reading them, as much as I have writing them!

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