Tenet review: Christopher Nolan's latest is Inception-lite, but that's ok
Tenet is far from Christopher Nolan's best film, but it is a hell of a ride
Christopher Nolan's Inception is a miracle of modern mainstream cinema. An original, high concept idea, not based on a comic or an existing property, that allows for never before seen visuals and unique storytelling, yet also being so deftly told that is never difficult to follow, and on top of that, it includes some genuinely affecting human emotion.
Nolan's latest film, Tenet, which hits cinemas this week, is going for much the same thing - but sadly doesn't quite have the same success. It is harder to follow than Inception, the rules of its big gimmick are a lot more ill-defined, it doesn't have as arresting visuals, and ultimately its ideas are nothing we haven't seen in other time travel stories.
Still, Tenet is a big overblown Christopher Nolan movie with big overblown showpiece action scenes, and that is always a joy to see. This is still superior Hollywood filmmaking, of that there should be no doubt.
Nolan movies are usually best experienced knowing as little as possible, but the gist of the set up is this: John David Washington (son of Denzel) is a CIA agent who, after his death is faked, has to track down the origins of some bullets that can go backward in time, and that people worry could lead to WWIII.
Robert Pattinson is his sidekick with a secret, Kenneth Branagh is a scary Russian arms dealer, Elizabeth Debicki is Branagh's wife, and it turns out far more than just bullets can bend the laws of time.
Tenet mostly plays out like a Bond movie. Washington hops from sexy location to sexy location, from a Russian theatre siege to an airport vault heist to swanning about in Southern Italy, all on the trail of the bullets.
And whiles its a ton of fun, it is all rather convoluted. It is a problem that was exacerbated by the fact I never really knew exactly what the time powers did. There's a scene early on in which a scientist, after explaining the bullets to Washington, tells him something like "Don't try to understand. Just feel it". It's almost as if she's addressing the audience, telling them to just go with and not think about it too much.
And you do go along with it, because even if the destination is unsatisfying, the ride is definitely worth it. Nolan is at his best doing big action scenes packed with IRL stunts and little noticeable CGI, and Tenet features some of his most entertaining yet. There's bungee jumps in Mumbai, backflipping cars in Estonia and a jumbo jet crashing into a building, for real. This is all the sort of stuff you want to see on the biggest screen possible.
Which brings us to the elephant in the room. Tenet has been anointed as the movie to get the masses back into cinemas, after most locations around the world were closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Whether it is safe to do so yet is up for debate, and of course a personal choice for each moviegoer.
If you do choose to go, Tenet might not be a masterpiece, but it's exactly the sort of film the cinema was made for.
Tenet is in UK cinemas August 26th.