Tenet is more than a film. It's the saviour of an industry
Tenet is a movie with a mission – to save the summer, keep Hollywood in business and persuade punters that they should brave the pandemic and get into cinemas (there's also a little plot device about averting a fate worse than a third world war, or something).
It arrives in cinemas on Thursday 27 August, months after it was originally due to be released, as the first blockbuster since lockdown.
Should you go and see it? Yes, you absolutely should (safely, mind, and only if you feel up to it), and not just to make sure that our cinemas stay afloat. It's also pretty damn good, especially the performance of John David Washington, according our own Olivia Ovenden's Tenet review.
Washington's Protagonist is Bond without the baggage, the Black hero of an action movie which doesn't have to explain how his race fits into the story. The Protagonist is a force for good in a world of slippery figures, one who takes on the men of the elite who play God over the rest of us, and a steadfast moral compass in a world which is always turning over on itself.
He's a hero perfect for this moment: a figure of mystery but one that still feels human rather than a cold killer, injecting a sense of humour into the film which doesn't feel forced, telling a kitchen full of henchmen with a straight face, "I ordered my hot sauce an hour ago." Written on the film's poster is the tagline 'Time for a new protagonist'. In Tenet, they have found the right man for the job.
But don't just take our word for it. To help you decide whether you fancy braving The Situation in order to properly experience Christopher Nolan's latest head-scratcher in all its explosive, bullets-going-backwards glory, here's what the rest of the critics thought about Tenet.
In The New York Times, Jessica Kiang fell for the spectacle, but felt that the plotting left a little to be desired:
Nolan is, by several exploding football fields, the foremost auteur of the “intellectacle,” which combines popcorn-dropping visual ingenuity with all the sedate satisfactions of a medium-grade Sudoku. Within the context of this self-created brand of brainiac entertainment, “Tenet” meets all expectations, except the expectation that it will exceed them. Forgive the circularity of this argument: it’s a side effect of watching the defiantly circular “Tenet.”
For the BBC, Will Gompertz was equally impressed by Nolan's mastery of "event cinema", as well as his ability to turn physics into something to enjoy with popcorn:
There are car chases in which The Protagonist is going forwards when all else is in reverse, fist fights that take place over millennia but happen in the same time and space, and bullets that seal rather than penetrate.
Nolan is challenging our preconceptions of time and suggesting there might be an alternative way of looking at it beyond a limited notion of linear progression. It's confusing to begin with, but by about mid-way through the film starts to make narrative sense, to such an extent that plot twists at the end are rather predictable (or, maybe that's some super clever meta-narrative device that validates the film's conceptual argument).
Empire's review, by Alex Godfrey, also focuses on the 007-ishness of the whole thing, albeit reimagined through a Nolan kaleidoscope:
Just as with Indiana Jones, for which George Lucas persuaded Bond fan Steven Spielberg they could create their own hero instead of piggybacking on someone else’s, Nolan has made his own Bond film here, borrowing everything he likes about it, binning everything he doesn’t, then Nolaning it all up (ie: mucking about with the fabric of time).
In a four-star review for The Independent, Clarisse Loughrey worries whether Nolan's die-on-a-hill insistence on a cinematic release might overshadow the movie itself:
And there’s Nolan himself, the purist who made a dogged, last stand against the digital release model. Tenet will be seen in cinemas, he declared, or it will not be seen at all. It’s a shame that the narrative around its release will inevitably cloud any real discussion of the film’s merits. Tenet is as intricately and exquisitely designed as Nolan’s earlier work. It boasts some of the most spectacular, memorable set-pieces of his career.
For Variety, Guy Lodge praises the film's aesthetic qualities, particularly its tailoring (we'll co-sign on that) which make up for any issues an audience might have with understanding what the hell's going on:
Precisely tracing the dense graph of the plotting in “Tenet” feels like work at the expense of its more sensory, movie-movie pleasures. Those range from the propulsive tumble of its fight sequences to the mesmerizing, carved-in-marble beauty of its stars, clothed in an infinite supply of cloud-soft, immaculately cinched suiting by costume designer Jeffrey Kurland and slicked in the oily gloss of Hoyte van Hoytema’s black-and-blue lensing.
It's not all positive, though. In The Guardian, Catherine Shoard takes umbrage with the film's scale, which, she writes, can't conceal a scant plot:
For all Tenet’s technical ambition, the plot is rote and the furnishings tired. Eastern European heavies lumber about with pliers and meat-cleavers. Clocks literally tick. Synths groan deeply on the soundtrack. No one shoots anyone without elaborately speechifying first. Extreme lengths (remote catamaran) must be pursued to ensure confidential conversations. The luxe locations titillate for a bit, but there’s something tonally off about the aspirational, How to Spend It aesthetic (Sator’s Italian villa, in particular, really overdoes the busts).
Will you be in the queue of opening day, or staying safe and waiting for it to hit on-demand? Let us know on Twitter @esquireme
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