This week, I went to the cinema. Remember what that was? It was a big room that showed moving pictures. These building are often found in a place called ‘the outdoors’. Stop me if I’m going too fast.
Then again, if – due to lockdown – the concept of ‘outside’ confuses you, then you’re, frankly, screwed when it comes to TENET.
In true Christopher Nolan style – much like many of his leading characters – I attended my local Empire Cinema wearing a mask. However, I did have to remove it occasionally.
Don’t judge me; I’m not a super-spreader; I simply had to dry it every so often, due to the amount of spit-takes I took. The inside was flooded with blue Tango Ice Blast.
For those of you who are totally unaware about TENET’s existence, and, well, for those of you who have seen the trailer 93 times over, and still don’t know what it’s about – here’s the official synopsis;
“Armed with only one word – TENET – and fighting for the survival of the entire world, the Protagonist journeys through a twilight world of international espionage on a mission that will unfold in something beyond real time”.
Nope. I still don’t wholly get it either. And I’ve seen the film.
Anyone who’s seen TENET will tell you that it is unbelievably confusing, undeniably. You could sit Isaac Newton in front of the Christopher Nolan blockbuster, and he’d ask what was happening, and – more importantly – “Are you sure the roof’s sturdy here? I just really don’t want anything falling on my head again.”
Going into the film, having seen the trailer, I knew TENET was about time, and the ability to reverse actions; that was about all I managed to muster. And as the movie progresses, we are fortunately in the same position as John David Washington’s protagonist (who is aptly called The Protagonist); in which neither he nor the audience fully understand why bullets can travel backwards, back into the guns.
At this point, we learn together – like a brutal, bloody version of Dora the Explorer – understanding that a group of terrorists are looking to end the world, and all of history, using this ability. So far, so (relatively) understandable.
It’s not until the story continues that it lost me, and – probably – 98% of the rest of the cinema. I’m a simple man; I see an Adam Sandler film, and I’ll click, so maybe that’s why I was confused by TENET’s story, which became increasingly more baffling by the scene. I feel like, up until the last act, I was having to almost pause the film in my mind, and work out, for myself, why they were doing certain actions, and how they did that last set piece.
I am a huge fan of Christopher Nolan; despite being some of his earliest work, Memento and Insomnia are still some of cinema’s finest, and he single-handedly made Batman a fucking unbelievably cool icon again; hell, the dude even apparently banned chairs from his set. He is a living legend.
But I worry that, after the huge success of Inception, where he sprinkled the mystery on top, he’s now just thrown the recipe out of the window (along with all of his stools, sofas and seats), and poured litre after litre of said mystery into his films, as it’s seemingly what the audience wants.
I really enjoyed Interstellar, up until Matthew McConaughey was sucked into a glowing wormhole and then could control dust on his daughter’s book case in the past – and… I think that’s what happened.
Now, with TENET, it just seems like Christopher Nolan wants to turn up the confusion because that’s what he can do. Personally, I want to go to the cinema to enjoy myself; not to attempt to find an equation that could accidentally alter the time-space continuum.
That’s not to say that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy TENET; I did. While it did make my head slightly sore at times, I loved it. Hell, drinking makes my head sore all of the time, but if I don’t go a day with three glasses of JD, I lose my shit.
Of course, you knew I enjoyed TENET though, didn’t you? The big, pink four stars at the top of the page might have given that away. (Again, if you didn’t suss that four stars was good, maybe TENET isn’t for you.)
In spite of its perplexing screenplay and the puzzling story, TENET is a stunning, hugely ambitious explosion of entertainment. With every next scene, I was left with my jaw-dropped, questioning how they managed to pull it off. It gave me the same feeling I had when I first saw Mad Max: Fury Road; not because the protagonist muffled every line of dialogue beneath a cumbersome mask, but because of its use of astounding practical effects.
Christopher Nolan boasted that TENET used under 300 VFX shots, which, according to Christopher, is “probably lower than most romantic comedies”. Compare that to Avengers: Endgame’s 2,000 visual effects shots, and you can sense how much craft and passion has been put into this project. But, in all fairness to Avengers, I suppose it was difficult to find a 8’3″ bald purple bloke on such short notice.
I cannot express enough how much these practical effects help emphasise the action and importance of every scene. Christopher Nolan actually bought a real Boeing 747, crashed it into a real building, and exploded it. Sure, maybe that’s excessive; maybe Christopher has some anger issues he needs to iron out, but it real makes TENET just look so effortlessly stunning.
Now, I couldn’t say the word ‘stunning’ without mentioning Robert Pattinson, could I? The cast is out-of-this-world. Newcomers to Nolan’s franchise, John David Washington and Robert Pattinson are exceptional.
John David, Denzel’s son, is a force on screen. I loved him in BlacKkKlansman, but compared to TENET, his performance in that was a pile of steaming manure. His suave-yet-charming persona makes for a captivating watch, and he could easily become the next Bond.
My only qualm with the performances in TENET would be Kenneth Branagh’s. I didn’t think I’d ever say that; he’s an incredible actor; his portrayal of sodding Miguel in The Road to El Dorado will bring damn tears to your eyes. But how many times can we see the generic Russian as the villain? Sure, it does have Putin who ██ █ ████ ███████ [This message has been redacted], but for every Putin, we have an Anna Kournikova. I’m so tired of seeing Russians as the baddies, just because they have a voice that sounds slightly different to the leading character’s.
In fact, I was a bit done with Kenneth’s character, Andrei Sator, all together. Again, this is no reflection on Kenneth, who portrayed him brilliantly, as he does with every role. I just found his motive so… Meh. It’s Andrei who’s behind the upcoming apocalypse, but what has forced him to devise such a diabolical plan; one that will eradicate all of his loved ones, including his young son, from the face of the planet?
His wife doesn’t love him any more. That – that’s it. The whole reason this film is happening is because Kenneth’s character wants to destroy the entire planet because she sold him a piece of dodgy art, which angered him, and she wanted to leave him. Like, I’ve had bigger arguments with my milkman. (HONESTLY, HOW HARD IS IT TO DELIVER ME GREEN CAP MILK, NOT RED?!) It seemed like the writers behind TENET had an incredible time-bending concept, but no reason to use it. I half imagine a team of scriptwriters sat around a table struggling, saying “Hm. Okay, so we want an end-of-the-world level of tension here, right? How can we achieve it? Any ideas?
“Larry? You got anything? Larry? Are you even listening to me?”
“Sorry, bud. I’m just having a bit of a tiff with my girlfriend. You see, I caught her texting another gu-“
“THAT’S IT. NO MORE IDEAS NEEDED. I HAVE IT. KENNETH’S CHARACTER WILL BLOW UP THE ENTIRE PLANET BECAUSE HE HAD A BIT OF A ROW WITH HIS PARTNER. SEE YOU AT OSCAR SEASON, LADS.”
(I still feel pretty bad for Larry; his girlfriend is really flirty with her co-workers. Especially her manager, Alan.)
TENET marks yet another one of Christopher’s successes. It’s a breathtaking, adrenaline-fuelled blast with twists and turns that you won’t see coming. Mainly because you have very little idea what’s actually happening. While it doesn’t have the same repeatability as, say, The Dark Knight or Inception, I think if you did miss seeing TENET on a big IMAX screen, you would regret it forever. And, unlike the film, you don’t have the chance to go back and correct your errors, so… GO WATCH IT. LIKE, NOW.