Christopher Nolan won a fan with Dunkirk (2017) and because of it I went to an advanced screening of Tenet (2020).
To say I was confused is an understatement.
Lots of action, good performers, brilliant special effects, convoluted plot….and this included science, not a feature of any knowledge from the author of these pages.
The concept of “inverse” weaponry, where somehow time was altered and things that have happened then un-happen in front of the viewer lost me early on. Visually it was good but I didn’t understand the science. Still I didn’t much understand Nolan’s Inception (2014) built on a similar premise.
There was a special forces-type raid on a fake Soviet town later in the piece. Troops on the same side, one wearing red flashes were in one time zone, those wearing blue in another. I defy you watch this three or four times and explain what’s going on.
What we have in Tenet is a James Bond film with an un-named hero ‘The Protagonist’ (John David Washington) and his ‘Felix Leiter’, Neil (Robert Pattinson) taking on a megalomaniac villain, Andrei (Kenneth Branagh) with the help of Andrei’s imprisoned-in-marriage wife Kat (Elizabeth Debicki).
This is Goldfinger (1964) with Tenet predecessors Sean Connery, Cec Linder, Gert Frobe and Honor Blackman (apologies to Shirley Eaton, Auric Goldfinger’s lover who gets killed early when she is painted in gold and her skin cannot breath).
Radioactive material of sorts gets a run in Tenet as it did in Goldfinger when it was in a bomb locked inside Fort Knox, intended to give radiation poisoning to the ingots so the villain could corner the market in world bullion. Agh, the simple days when bad guys just wanted to be rich.
Rich means nothing in Tenet. The bad guys, including arms dealer Andrei and his Indian counterpart/rival Priya (Dimple Kapadia) live in splendid wealth. He all over; she anonymous behind her ‘front’ husband, high above the streets of Mumbai.
Power and domination are the end game and Andrei takes it further. Knowing he’s going to die, he wants to wipe out the world and all its history. Well, I think that’s what was happening?
Only The Protagonist and Neil, with some help from Kat and and unknown troops led by a canny couple of officers (one male, one female which wouldn’t have happened in Goldfinger) can stop him.
The clothes are lovely too. Washington and Pattinson dress well and The Protagonist handles himself with elan in all circumstances, whether it be dispatching Andrei’s goons in a restaurant kitchen or scornfully treating a trumped up maitre d’ at a high-end dining room. He knows his way about and handles himself Bond-like in all circumstances, social or combat.
Debicki must be wondering about becoming typecast. She was the heroine trapped in a relationship with the heinous Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie) in The Night Manager (2016) and assisted the hero, Jonathan Pine (Tom Hiddlestone) extract her from that situation. Like Jonathan, The Protagonist seems to risk everything for her. A strangely alluring figure to the two heroes.
Like all Bond films – and many other copiers – Tenet opens with an action scene where bad guys achieve something really naughty despite the best intentions of the hero who is introduced to the audience with his remarkable array of mental agility and fighting skills.
I still haven’t worked out what this scene meant either, although there is some connection tied somewhere into the plot of a final ingredient to make a world-destroying device.
Tenet is a movie delivering many things to many viewers. The one thing it didn’t deliver for me was being advertised as a spy thriller. Perhaps that was just a newspaper reporter’s definition, I’m not sure? Just as I’m not sure if I could have better spent 2 hours and 45 minutes elsewhere on a Saturday night.
This movie will divide opinion. Many will love it. I’m just not one of them.