Powerhouse director Christopher Nolan (‘Dark Knight Trilogy’, ‘Inception’, ‘Dunkirk’) is on record saying that he’s always wanted to make a James Bond film. Perhaps the only thing blocking this from happening is the appearance that he is beheld to Warner Bros. for financing his unique visions after delivering them the massive success of each film in the Batman trilogy. He followed ‘Batman Begins’ with his dueling magician flick, ‘The Prestige’, ‘The Dark Knight’ with his dream warrior blockbuster ‘Inception’, ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ with his ambitious bid for ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ resonance, ‘Interstellar’. With his latest epic, ‘Tenet’, he leans into this Bond fascination unapologetically, with a major theatrical twist that’s incredible to behold, but that also strains the audience capacity for head-scratching sci-fi physics.
First and foremost, ‘Tenet’ is dense and doesn’t hold the audience’s hand. The film immediately drops the viewer into an international espionage situation, with John David Washington’s Protagonist on a mission with a SWAT team attempting to infiltrate a tense, precisely crafted hostage situation at the national Opera House in Ukraine. An otherwise generally intense sequence (elevated by the driving score courtesy of rising star Ludwig Goransson), is taken to another level with the introduction of some mind-bending time-reversed munitions.
From here on in, sequence after sequence of ever-ratcheting action set pieces ensue, as only Nolan can frame, in full large-screen IMAX camera glory. Supporting players are introduced in the incredibly charismatic presence of Robert Pattinson and the visually statuesque / damaged psyche of Elizabeth Debicki. It’s best left unsaid as to the particular roles they play in the narrative, but their involvement is truly welcome. Washington himself is a natural, dynamic action star, and an interesting character to center a Nolan film around. Nolan places Washington at the center of this Bond-like story in an appreciated affront to Western cultural hesitancy in putting a black man in a protagonist role within a “sophisticated” spy tale (everyone knows Idris Elba would’ve been a great Bond).
‘Tenet’ is a bold entry in blockbuster filmmaking. The movie is unrelenting in both its staging and its brain-crushing mechanics. It’s reasonable to believe that viewers may become frustrated by the unique mechanics of this film, but from Nolan’s first major release, ‘Memento’, to ‘Inceprion’, his biggest success not related to previously established intellectual property, he’s always relied and trusted audiences to just go with what he’s presenting. The biggest unknown with ‘Tenet’ is will a wide audience follow him down this particular rabbit hole under these particular circumstances . . .
Written & Directed By: Christopher Nolan
Running Time: 150 min.
* * * (out of 4 stars) -OR- B