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Tenet Spoiler-free Review

It’s been a minute since I did a review on here, but hey, what is time anyway? I just saw Tenet a few days ago in IMAX. Yeah, I finally ended my absolute isolation to watch a movie. To anyone who knows me, that tracks, right?

Here’s a quick summary of the film from IMDB:

Armed with only one word, Tenet, and fighting for the survival of the entire world, a Protagonist journeys through a twilight world of international espionage on a mission that will unfold in something beyond real time.

Having seen quite a few trailers for Tenet, I was excited to see this film. Firstly, the fact that Nolan cast a black dude in the main role is already pretty epic, and (without spoiling I’ll say) it seems he’s ditched the “fridging of wife” trope, too. Our boy is growing up! These elements aside, the hype from the trailers also promised amazing action scenes, a great cast, and mind-bending time travel. These are all present in good measure in Tenet.

While I rolled my eyes at the line (in the trailer) “The detritus of a coming war“, for the most part I was along for the ride. The main thing you have to realize about this film is that you need to go in with an open mind, and when you get there, just let go and run with it. That seems to be a notion repeated to our main character in the film as well. Read on for the rest of my spoiler-free review for Tenet.

when i saw tenet meme

Technically Speaking

Do I have to talk about this? I mean, it’s obvious that this is going to be off the wall, visually. A large part of the film was shot using IMAX cameras, and it shows. The wide (and high) screen format allows one to bask in the scenery of the various destinations around the world: the broad oceans, the stunning sunsets, the industrial airports and battle grounds, showcasing the cast, vehicles and gear involved in high speed chases and explosive set-pieces. It’s cinematic eye candy and I’ll chew on it any day of the week. Tenet is worth seeing on the biggest screen possible, and if you’re able to do so safely, you should.

There have been a few complaints about the sound mix. This seems to be a regular complaint with the last few films from Nolan, where some critics complain about the music and sound effects drowning out the dialogue. I didn’t find this to be a problem in my screening, however after not being at a cinema for almost six months, I must say that the general audiovisual experience was indeed a shock to the system.

There were a few moments where the exposure didn’t favour the darker skin tone of John David Washington, something that has been flagged as an issue by black filmmakers in the past, but there were very few scenes where it was problematic.

Additionally, I liked the grittier grading of Tenet, as it grounded the ethereal ideas in a world that felt very tangible and real. The action and combat is well staged and directed, and complex, considering some of the time-bending rules of the world. There were a number of fight scenes that had me literally shout out in excitement in the theatre.

The Story

Tenet is complicated. It might be Nolan’s most complicated film, but it operates on a level where it can still be entertaining as an espionage film, while being cerebral as well, if that’s your jam. What I’m saying is, you can enjoy this whether you’re a potato, or Einstein himself, or anywhere in between, and that continues the fantastic universal appeal of Nolan’s best work.

The action is well-choreographed, the performances and direction expertly executed, and the script a tight and well-rounded delivery of basic conflict from one act to the next. However, there’s always something underneath the surface with a Nolan film, and there’s a lot beneath the surface of Tenet if you really think about it and break it down. By now I’ve watched countless videos with detailed explanations, theories and analyses, and I can say that everything fits in its place quite beautifully.

Some may consider this film to be too complex, but I’d argue that you don’t have to understand every single detail to grasp the lead character’s objectives and root for him. This is definitely Nolan’s response to James Bond, and it feels very pointed when you consider his casting choice and the added science fiction element. It may be speculation, but in my mind, Bond, to Nolan, is outdated.

The Performances

We follow The Protagonist, played by John David Washington, who enters an organisation with an objective to save the world, literally. I know that’s vague but I’m keeping this spoiler-free. All you have to know is that he’s great in his role, and he works really well in scenes with all of the supporting characters. I found the pairings of Robert Pattinson and Washington as well as Elizabeth Debicki and Washington to emit their own unique chemistry, showcasing the charisma and talent of the lead.

Kenneth Branagh also plays a major role in the film, and he just soaks up his lines, delivering them in Shakespearean fashion, and the elusive and aggressive nature of his character is just frustrating enough to keep you invested in The Protagonist’s goal to thwart him.

The Verdict

Christopher Nolan is one of the most bankable directors working today, and while there has been a lot of debate and discussion around whether or not anyone should see any film in theatres with the current state of the world, that’s not something I’d like to get into here.

As a film, Tenet is complex. Live with it. This is Nolan using all his influence and clout, and telling a mind-bending James Bond-esque story that breaks some tired tropes from the spy espionage genre, while using others to effectively weave an interesting, engaging and exciting narrative filled with stunningly directed sequences, innovative set-pieces and brilliant performances. From a purely cinematic and artistic perspective, Tenet ticks all the right boxes and provides entertainment and thought provocation.

Rating: 9/10

Watch the trailer for Tenet here:

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Editor-in-Chief at BTG Lifestyle. For cinema.