John David Washington and Robert Pattinson in “Tenet”.
A Christopher Nolan movie has been a happening ever since, in the mid-2000s, the British director dusted off the superhero film with his Batman trilogy. Since then, he’s been one of the only directors in Hollywood capable of releasing super-big-budget blockbusters that aren’t built on a pre-existing brand. In the age of Marvel movies, “Star Wars” sequels and endless “Fast & Furious” sagas, Christopher Nolan has sort of become a franchise all on its own: the promise of spectacular cinema and demand, an entertaining one that can explode counters at the box office and line up prestigious awards. His previous film, “Dunkirk”, became the war film that generated the most box office sales worldwide, while collecting eight Oscar nominations.
For all these reasons, “Tenet,” the director’s eleventh feature film, due out Wednesday, August 26, was among the most anticipated films of 2020 even before the year began. When the Covid-19 pandemic put a halt to the film industry, the film found itself in a unique position: the only blockbuster of the summer, the one that must bring audiences back to theaters , which must restart the machine and save exhibitors around the world, who have suffered a drastic drop in attendance in recent months.
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Its release having been delayed several times, the wait around “Tenet” became such that we began to think that we were bound to be disappointed. So does “Tenet” keep its promises?
If you are looking to see a spectacular big budget movie that will keep you going for almost 2.5 hours, then yes. Christopher Nolan uses here the recipes that made the success of “Inception”, “The Dark Knight” or “Dunkirk” in a spy thriller, as if he had been entrusted with the writing of a James Bond in his own way. .
The protagonist of the film, played by John David Washington (“Blackkklansman”), is a spy who finds himself involved in a secret mission. He quickly discovers that a technology that allows objects – and people – to be “inverted” and go back in time has been invented in the future to unleash a catastrophe worse than a Third World War. He must now unravel the mystery of this technology and prevent this cataclysm.
A video game puzzle
A fond of spectacular action scenes, real explosions and extraordinary sets filmed on an IMAX camera, Christopher Nolan is no exception to his habits. Whether it’s sending a Boeing 747 crashing into a hangar, steering a moving van on the highway or choreographing a final battle reminiscent of “Inception”, the contract is fulfilled, we takes full eyes.
As far as the scenario requires, complex mechanisms which have become the hallmark of the filmmaker, we can also say that the contract is fulfilled. Christopher Nolan continues to explore his favorite subject: time. After the time that stretches in “Inception”, the time that passes in “Interstellar”, and the time that races against the clock in “Dunkirk”, the Briton imagines here a world where time is malleable at mercy. Where it scrolls forward as well as back. Where the future could repair the mistakes of the past, and where individuals would be masters of their own destiny. A sort of new interpretation of the time machine, against a backdrop of algorithms and technological warfare.
A duet with Robert Pattinson that works
Fortunately, “Tenet” also has a more human spy-movie dimension. When Neil, the character played by Robert Pattinson, tasked with helping the protagonist put his plans into action, kicks in, it’s a charismatic actor duo that works perfectly. An alchemy that would almost make you want to see other adventures featuring them.
There’s also Kat, played by Elizabeth Debicki (“The Widows”), wife of Andrei Sator, the movie’s big bad. She is certainly the most complex character of “Tenet”. Initially a simple step on the protagonist’s journey, it becomes the emotional heart of the film. She then passes from victim under Sator’s grip to mistress of her own destiny.
Unfortunately the somewhat too abstract nature of the mechanics at the heart of the film is less easy to understand than those of “Inception” or “Interstellar”, so much so that the feature film gets its feet in the carpet by dint of reversals. At this point, two solutions are available to you: either you try to understand absolutely everything, at the risk of getting out of the film, or you accept the fact that everything does not immediately make sense, and you enjoy the show.