A concert hall in Kiev is about to be under attack by terrorists, only it doesn't know it until masked and armed men break into the auditorium and start stomping on the orchestra's instruments. That's not the only reason they are present, though, as they want to blow up the place and kill as many people as possible - and also do in a certain "celebrity" who is watching from the gallery. But for one man (John David Washington), this is a test of his mettle as he sets about defusing the bombs strewn around the now-sleeping gas afflicted audience, rescuing the celebrity and unwittingly establishing himself as a potential saviour of humanity, if he can get his head around it.
Christopher Nolan films, for all the acclaim they received from movie buffs and casual audiences alike, were also wont to be held up for criticism since they were so darn easy to make fun of, with their overcomplicated plotting, sexless characters and determination to take themselves so very seriously. But it did not end there for Tenet, as thanks to the pandemic hitting cinemas hard in 2020-21, a lot was resting on its shoulders when Nolan demanded that it be seen in theatrical release to enjoy the full effect, despite misgivings about precisely how safe that would be. No matter how many safety measures were introduced, a large portion of viewers were sceptical.
As a result, it took less than half of what a Nolan movie was usually expected to at the box office, though a lot of that was down to cinemas not being allowed to operate at full capacity what with the social distancing in effect. Nevertheless, there was a significant contingent who braved the fears and genuinely appreciated the experience of watching a Nolan blockbuster in a mostly empty auditorium, and enough of them turned out worldwide to make Tenet one of the biggest of its year, for whatever that was worth when Bad Boys for Life was its only real competition. It may have been in a normal year, neither would have cracked the Top Ten major earners of that twelve months.
This was because, in the case of Tenet, Nolan had become far more self-indulgent than ever before, labouring his love of James Bond to craft what was essentially a Bond flick crossed with a science fiction heist movie, and one whose science may not have stood up to scrutiny, but was an excuse to get clever-clever with a story that was running forwards and backwards simultaneously. Plenty were turned off, though some put the incomprehensibility down to the muffled dialogue (a common Nolan issue for many), but it was nevertheless one of the most unashamedly complex storylines that had ever been served up for the mass market. It was a film that trusted you would be able to keep up, and if you did not it looked down on you from a great height with a sneer of disdain playing on its lips and an arched eyebrow asking "Really? You stupid or something?"
Actually, if you were able to keep up with it, if not necessarily grasp the finer details, the fact that Tenet seemed to know what it was doing went a long way to having you comfortable to just go with the flow and appreciate its coldly efficient, hyper-imaginative action. It was true that these setpieces had one idea which they repeated with variations (hand to hand combat, car chase, battle scenario, and so forth), but the sheer novelty of watching them play out in two directions at once was not to be underestimated, and the bravura on display did make up for a lot of incoherence. Maybe it was not as complicated as all the complainers would claim, as essentially Washington (unnamed) has to stop a Russian oligarch (Kenneth Branagh) from ending time using future tech and ending his fragile trophy wife's life (Elizabeth Debicki) into the unwelcome bargain.
These twin matters are equally important here as there was a surprisingly sincere examination of the mechanisms of an abusive relationship hidden amid the temporal machinations, a commentary on the hero role where the vast and planet-destroying has to be weighed up against the personal to have the implications sink in. Perhaps it was a deadpan joke that Washington had no real personality to play, buffeted by the narrative that saw him forced into roleplaying by the purposes of fate itself, while Robert Pattinson as more or less the second banana at least had a quippy, devil may care attitude of an Errol Flynn or David Niven adventure hero to toy with, notably thanks to his character being revealed as the protagonist's guide and puppet master. Really the chief drawback was that it built to a terrific middle rather than a terrific ending - by that concluding point it had played its hand and we were relegated to wondering if Nolan had allowed his concept to get away from him. Still, nobody else was crazy enough to be trying this ambitious material on such a scale, and that was to be applauded, even with the reservations. Rumbly, growly music by Ludwig Goransson.
British director specialising in dark thrillers. Made an impressive debut with the low-budget Following, but it was the time-twisting noir Memento that brought him to Hollywood's attention. 2002's Al Pacino-starrer Insomnia was a remake of a Norwegian thriller, while Batman Begins was one of 2005's biggest summer movies. The hits kept coming with magician tale The Prestige, and Batman sequel The Dark Knight was the most successful movie of Nolan's career, which he followed with ambitious sci-fi Inception and the final entry of his Batman trilogy The Dark Knight Rises. He then attempted to go as far as he could with sci-fi epic Interstellar, another huge success at the box office, which was followed by his World War II blockbuster Dunkirk and mindbending sci-fi Tenet, bravely (or foolishly) released during the pandemic.