Entertainment Tenet review: Christopher Nolan's mind-bending time opera is a complete thrill-ride - just don't expect to understand it
Ludwig Göransson reveals Christopher Nolan's heavy breathing is part of 'Tenet' score
Oscar-winning composer Ludwig Göransson has revealed that Christopher Nolan’s heavy breathing was incorporated into the score for Tenet. The 35-year-old told journalists at the Tenet press conference that he began work on the movie six months before cameras rolled, enabling the score to be assembled in tandem with the film. He said that guitars were a big part of the score, with distortion effects and manipulations used to create something entirely unique.
‘Don’t try to understand it’ is one of the first lines uttered in Tenet.
It's a brief, direct instruction for our main protagonist in Christopher Nolan’s new mind-bending time opera as he starts his journey into the criminal underbelly of a new type of technology - one billed to be ‘more dangerous than a nuclear holocaust’.
But somewhere in the middle of two-and-a-half hours of physics theory, World War III, and life happening in reverse - all at breakneck speed - those words could just as easily apply to the audience.
Tenet Reviews: Critics Are More Mixed On Christopher Nolan's New Film Than You Might Be Expecting
The reviews are out for Christopher Nolan’s much-awaited film Tenet, and the new release seems to have divided opinion. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Tenet’s release date has been pushed back on three different occasions, with major details about the plot being kept firmly under wraps. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Tenet’s release date has been pushed back on three different occasions, with major details about the plot being kept firmly under wraps.
Tenet is a super-secret spy ring aiming to save humanity as we know it. Our main character, a monkish agent known as The Protagonist and played by a commanding John David Washington, is drafted in to solve a time warp that even he doesn’t understand.
The Protagonist learns about a new technology that can ‘invert’ the direction of events - causing bullets to fly backwards into guns and bombed buildings to reconstruct themselves.
Our man globetrots to uncover who might have got their hands on this unsettling science that can send whole armies forwards and backwards in time, forming a suave pair with a witty Robert Pattinson as Neil, who appears to be an unremarkable posh boy with great hair and a litany of ways to get out of a scrape.
The first ‘Tenet’ reviews are mixed
The first reviews for Tenet, Christopher Nolan’s repeatedly delayed blockbuster, have finally emerged, and they are very much a mixed bag. Let’s start off with the positive, which is that, at the moment, Tenet currently has 79% on Rotten Tomatoes after 42 reviews. That score isn’t too bad when you consider all of the hype and expectation that has surrounded Nolan’s latest time-traveling adventure, and it is above the scores for The Prestige (76%) and Interstellar (72%).
The dynamic duo set out to find that it’s Russian oligarch Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh) who is intent on using this tech for his own destructive ends, all the while waging a personal war on his long-tormented wife Kat, portrayed with a grounded performance by Elizabeth Debicki.
This sends Washington and Pattinson on a trip from Estonia to Vietnam, moving this way, that way, forward and backward and over the Irish Sea to save the world and save the girl. Though it turns out Kat is her own player in this game of time chess as opposed to a damsel in distress.
And make no mistake, it’s a complete thrill-ride.
Teeth-gritting close combat with kitchen utensils is hotly followed by a fantastic scene where a jumbo jet bursts into pieces. Struggles with toxic gases and gun fights in reverse really do leave you breathless as you watch The Protagonist and Neil desperately try to get a handle on this time-slipping fight against evil.
Christopher Nolan's Tenet may not screen in LA and NYC
According to Variety on Monday, the studio will only permit it to be shown at drive-in screenings if regular movie theatres are open in the same locale. Theatres in LA and NYC remain shuttered.But with Warner Bros. committed to a Labor Day weekend opening for Tenet, Christopher Nolan's 'cinemas only' directive could lead to an uneven rollout across the U.S.
‘You have to start looking at the world in a new way,’ quips a mysterious arms dealer played by Dimple Kapadia at the centre of the epic. Tenet is Nolan’s rollercoaster and we’re just riding it.
Among the greatest achievements of this film is that the action feels entirely real. Nolan’s penchant for building the sets to make gravity-defying scenes possible really shines when you watch cars skating backwards for miles on end, weaving in and out of motorway traffic.
It’s not overdone and is actually pretty measured for a Mission Impossible-esque spy thriller, but the action is so convincing it becomes captivating to watch.
Yet all of this action is best enjoyed with the suspension of disbelief, logic, and really any hope you had of understanding the plot as you sat down in your socially-distanced cinema seat. Because if you thought you were going to get more of an explanation of what on Earth is going on beyond the absolute fundamentals, you were wrong.
In his other films, Nolan carefully plots out the mechanics of the worlds he is operating in. Considered lectures from teacher to student in Inception, memory loss-induced repetition in Memento.
Tenet ending explained: Unravelling the mysteries of Christopher Nolan's spy thriller
Tenet is best compared to a mysterious uncle you see once in a blue moon. He bursts through the door surrounded by a cloud of bullets, telling you that there’s no time to explain, but you need to go with him to fight the Russian oligarchs now!
But amid so much pacy action, Nolan simply doesn’t explain the years of research that went into this film’s mind-blowing mechanics in any great depth. On the all too few occasions he tries, the theorems are mentioned briefly by characters in quiet, rushed exchanges as if they were the ABCs, but you never get a good grasp of how it all works.
It’s a shame when you consider that Nolan has cemented himself as a master of breaking down difficult subjects, such as dreams in Inception or the art of trickery in The Prestige.
He often invokes complexity in his films but ensures that viewers can ride alongside, explaining such tricky topics so audiences understand them in earnest and relate to his characters better.
Crucially, Nolan’s ideas are not dumbed down in those films and remained the centre of the stories. Nolan seemed to trust that, with the right pointers, his audience would get it. It made for intelligent and exhilarating films.
The Hidden Meaning Behind Tenet, And All The Best Fan Theories And Easter Eggs
So who exactly is Max?
As a fan, part of the appeal of settling in for the evening with a Nolan flick is suspecting that I’ll come away from it having learned something new, my views challenged by the subject matter.
Tenet is an intelligent film, but one that is far less concerned with imparting knowledge on the viewer than Nolan’s prior work.
It could well be that Nolan’s intention is to make us feel as clueless as The Protagonist is about the mission at the start of the film, which would be an ambitious approach to the story.
But while the main character does appear to understand the mechanics of time as Tenet progresses, the dots still aren’t quite connecting for the rest of us and you can’t help but feel that something is missing. And when The Protagonist has some realisations in the final act, lines of dialogue seemingly intended to make it all crystal clear fall in the fog cast by two hours without much exposition.
Ultimately, the lack of explanation in this film leaves you wanting and a little frustrated as a real lightbulb moment remains out of reach for the viewer.
By the end, it’s Pattinson’s character that is arguably the most interesting as his story arc develops.
Nolan would do well to announce a sequel and take us on more adventures with Neil and The Protagonist, which could further explain some of Tenet’s finer points.
Perhaps after another watch and several more hours lying alone in a dark room, the details surrounding the way time works in Tenet might become clearer. But either the work Nolan has done to understand the physics of time has not translated into help for the viewer, or he’s simply not asking us to follow along - both eventualities are a little disappointing.
Yet beyond the impenetrable story, getting hauled by the scruff of the neck through time to embark on a spy mission crafted by Christopher Nolan is a thoroughly enjoyable adventure. Just don’t try to understand it - you’ll have a lot more fun that way.
Tenet will be released in cinemas across the UK on August 26.
Tenet 2 – a sequel from Christopher Nolan could happen .
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