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Review: Tenet Is A Feast For The Eyes But One Hell Of A Puzzle For Your Brain (No Spoilers)

Review: Tenet Is A Feast For The Eyes But One Hell Of A Puzzle For Your Brain (No Spoilers)
By Paul Moore

If there was only one cinema left in the world and a Christopher Nolan film was being released in it, the movie would still command the attention of every single newspaper, TV station, website, and film fan.

After all, the director of The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception, and Interstellar has consistently made films that combine blockbuster thrills with an arthouse sensibility. However, for very different reasons, it's hard not to be swept up in the hype and hope surrounding his new release, Tenet.

For many cinemas, Nolan's decision to be the first 'big' film released since the coronavirus pandemic is a massive financial help. By sticking with his plan to have a cinematic release, the director has been hailed as something akin to a saviour of cinema but when you remove all the noise and bluster, one simple question remains, is Tenet worth your money?

The simple answer is yes and like so many of Nolan's previous films, it's best not knowing a lot going into it. Don't worry, we're not going to tell you.

Ok, so what's it about?

John David Washington plays the Protagonist, a special forces operative that's recruited by a shadowy organisation that plans on stopping WW3.

Armed with only one word - Tenet - and fighting for the survival of the entire world, he journeys through a world of international espionage on a mission that will unfold in something that's not quite real-time.


It's not time travel, but inversion.

Ok, what does inversion mean - again, no spoilers because you've already seen this from the trailers.

In simple terms, just imagine that some objects/actions/events are happening in rewind or reverse order, while the rest of the world continues to operate as normal.


During his mission to save the world, the Protagonist needs the help of Robert Pattinson's operative Neil as he navigates the murky world of inversion and espionage, and the connections of Elizabeth Debicki's resourceful yet vengeful Kat.

As for its aesthetic, Tenet is probably the closest that Nolan will ever get to making a Bond film because every single frame of it is brimming with nods to 007.

From the slick suits, exotic locations, scene-stealing villain, apocalyptic plot, and even Clémence Poésy's take on a character that's very close to Q, it's clear that the director is absolutely having a blast and like so many of his previous films, the action in Tenet is jaw-dropping with Nolan pushing every boundary possible.


For anyone that saw the prologue in IMAX before The Rise of Skywalker, that scene at the opera sets a remarkably high standard which Nolan matches with aplomb throughout. Hand on heart, there's nothing quite like the action sequences in Tenet.

Yes, we're certain that you've read that line before in various other reviews about other films, but believe us, there's NOTHING quite like the sequences in Tenet and that's mainly due to the trippy use of the inversion filming techniques.

Throughout the film, we see Nolan crashing a real-life jumbo jet, executing a stunning hallway fight that invokes The Raid, The Matrix, and John Wick but in reverse - trust us, it makes sense when you see it - and a bungee entrance that's going up into a highly-fortified building rather than down it.


The action is on a completely different scale.

However, if anyone had problems wrapping their heads around Inception, Tenet might just cause your brains to pop.

Within the first 40 minutes, so many ideas, pieces of world-building information, and rules of this 'inverted world' are introduced. It's likely that you'll still be trying to get familiar with them before the main plot kicks-in and the new characters are introduced.


Whereas Inception had the patience, time and storytelling confidence to clearly define and explain its narrative rules - dreams within dreams, if you're killed in one you wake up in another etc - that's lacking in Tenet because everything is in such a rush.

Also, because of the fragmented nature of the timeline and storytelling, it's not always easy to follow the beats and characters in the main action setpieces as they unfold.

An hour into the film, there's an 'aww, that makes sense moment' which provides some clarity on previous events, but because you've spent a fair bit of the previous hour wondering what's going on, you're not as emotionally invested in the events as they unfold on the screen.


This being said, it's still a giddy thrill to watch Nolan direct action because very few filmmakers can do it better than him but the storytelling devices can detract from the overall sense of fun in the action scenes.

It's only later after the eureka moment when you start to go back in your head and fill in the blanks. Then again, that could be part of Tenet's charm for certain film fans - thinking back and seeing things from a completely different perspective.

Case in point, there's a pulsating chase on the freeway involving the mysterious MacGuffin that's shown from two different perspectives. Yes, it looks beautiful and the stunts are fantastic, but it's only fully appreciated ten minutes later when you've got a fuller grasp on the storytelling.

A 'leave your brains at the door' blockbuster it ain't. Tenet is like an action jigsaw where you've got to put the pieces together.

It's not all about the fights, explosions, and bullet catching though because Tenet also boasts some impressive performances. After his breakthrough role in BlacKKKlansman, John David Washington is the perfect choice as the leading man because he combines a natural charm with a kinetic fish out of water energy.

Elsewhere, Robert Pattinson's show don't tell performance is perfectly judged, while Elizabeth Debicki is given plenty to do that's central to the overall plot. Michael Caine's cameo as an English aristocrat that holds the keys to a much larger world is also a joy - you're left wishing that he got to share more scenes with Washington's naive rookie -  while Kenneth Branagh's ferocious oligarch steals every scene that he's in.

Ok, so the final verdict on a film with action that can't be described, a plot that nobody wants to know about, and a production that was guarded in secrecy right from day one?

The overall impact of Tenet is that it's going to incite endless conversations, theories about what's going on, and Easter Egg hunts for subliminal messages and clues. It's very likely that the message boards on Reddit will crash, such will be the inevitable amount of film fans that want to fill in the blanks.

However, unlike the tighter narrative and plot on Inception, it really shouldn't be incumbent on film fans to fill in these blanks, and you can't help but wish that Nolan spent more time on the plot and less on the setpieces.

FYI, we're not even getting into the various issues that arise from dealing with time trav..sorry, inversion. It's The Terminator paradox all over again.

This being said, film is an art form that's designed to bring people together, make you think, and most importantly, entertain.

On that note, Tenet needs to be seen on the biggest screen possible because it's an experience that definitely belongs in the cinema. However, you'll need to clear some time afterwards for a full debrief because you'll be leaving the theatre with so many questions - some of which, Nolan might not even know the answer to. We have a feeling that the pop-culture discourse is going to be dominated by countless questions, answers and theories.

After all the recent events in the world, isn't it a welcome distraction to think and talk about a movie for a few days?

Tenet is released in Irish cinemas on August 26.

Take a look at what's in store.


Clip via Warner Bros. Pictures

SEE ALSO: Tickets For Tenet Are Now On Sale In Ireland

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