It is no surprise that Tenet was referred to by many as Inception 2. It has a lot of similarities with the 2010 sci-fi thriller — the heist elements, an ensemble cast, twisty plot, a knotty central concept that drives the plot (inception in Inception and inversion in Tenet), and so on. However, Inception had an emotional core that Tenet, to a certain extent, lacks. The characters are paper thin too.
That is not to say that Tenet is a bad movie. I believe Tenet is one of the best movies I have seen this year so far. And if you can, please go watch it on the biggest screen possible. More than any movie in recent memory, it offers spectacle on a gargantuan scale. It is a perfectly-paced, smartly crafted thriller with stunning special effects and a thumping soundtrack. And yet, if you want to be emotionally involved with this story and its characters, you are going to be disappointed.
It is hard to talk about Tenet without spoiling much, but I will try.
John David Washington’s Protagonist is a CIA agent who is part of an undercover operation at a performance in Kyiv opera house in Ukraine. He is captured and swallows a cyanide pill, only to wake up very much alive. Turns out, the pill was fake and a CIA officer tells him he passed the test and he is ready to become an operative of Tenet, a secret organisation that is trying to prevent the destruction of the world by nefarious forces from the future.
Christopher Nolan, as we all know, likes to play with time in the cinema he makes. Tenet also deals with time in a way. The said antagonistic forces that are pulling the strings from the future have learned how to ‘invert’ things. That is not time-travel per se, but it is more about making their entropy run backwards, making them retrace their steps.
Like many of his films, Nolan is reluctant to fully explain everything and for the most part that helps you to get immersed into this world of sci-fi espionage. It is all suitably complex and yet one understands enough to find the story engaging. The story dangles the word Tenet in front of the Protagonist and us for a long time until it begins to dole out information around the end of the first half.
Sadly, the way Tenet explains stuff is clunky, and Nolan’s preference for exposition dialogue still does not impress. For a film that is stuffed with some superb action sequences, expository scenes in Tenet instantly pull you out of the experience.
Speaking of action, it must be said Tenet is one of the best action films in quite a while. First, action in Tenet gives off an authentic air that is missing from the CGI heavy movies of today. Being a Nolan film, there is little to no CGI, and nearly everything you see on the screen was shot as is, and that includes blowing up an actual Boeing 747. It might sound wasteful, but it undoubtedly looks great.
There is unusual action stuff too. In a scene, a guy fights an inverted opponent, whose moves are reversed. In the climax, two groups of soldiers assault a location, one is moving forward normally, and the other is inverted and has the benefit of knowing what happens in the future. These scenes must be seen to be believed.
So while Tenet does fall short of perfection due to a lot of exposition and little to no backstory to the major characters, it does what it promises — deliver an enthralling big-screen experience with eye-popping action effects. It is a great argument in itself as to why the theatrical experience must survive.