IronWatcher’s review published on Letterboxd:
Watched in the cinema
"Tenet"'s furious prologue shows just how much the blockbuster cinema has been missing in the past few months before its uncertain start. Once again, Christopher Nolan opens his film with a breathless bang, in which the clash between terrorists and a special unit in an opera becomes a splendidly orchestrated confusion game in which the viewer has to find his way around exhausted.
Anyone who has previously assumed that "Inception" already marks the climax of Nolan's career at complexly interwoven narrative levels will soon be changed here. Despite the gigantic budget, which provided the director with around 200 million dollars for his original vision, "Tenet" is narrated more complex and uncompromisingly than almost any other film by the director. The usually high level of exposition with which Nolan usually leads a mass audience very carefully to his now unmistakable mix of blockbuster spectacle and deeper aspirations is here reduced to a necessary minimum. Nolan explains the rules of this unconventional espionage world, into which John David Washington's main character is suddenly plunged, with concise explanations and dialogues that make the concept of "Inversion" and the inverse entropy of objects seem like sophisticated physics lessons. However, this does not yet make "Tenet" an overtaxing experimental film. In the first half, the director rather uses his new play with the essence of time for spectacular interludes that enrich the actual story around espionage, camouflage, infiltration and masquerade. As a recruited secret agent of a mysterious organization called "Tenet", the protagonist has to prevent nothing less than the 3rd World War. In the process, Nolan condenses the immense scale of his plot into isolated set pieces with which the director seems to stage his personal version of a modern James Bond film.
The fact that the director and his crew were generally influenced by the spy genre becomes abundantly clear in "Tenet". He sends the viewer with the main characters, including Washington's protagonist and Robert Pattinson's mysterious and alert Neil, criss-crossing the continents on a series of maneuvers and missions, behind which a mysterious master plan increasingly emerges. Key characters in this cat-and-mouse game and race against time, which in turn ticks according to completely different rules, are the Russian oligarch Sator, whom Kenneth Branagh plays like a diabolical Bond villain, and Elizabeth Debicki as his wife Kat, who Nolan incorporates into the plot as an emotional anchor. For a long time, "Tenet" unfolds as a bombastic sci-fi action blockbuster that makes the screen shake with fabulous images and the massive score of Hans Zimmer's replacement Ludwig Göransson. Starting in the second half at the latest, Nolan drives his film into complex and confusing heights, where the game of time turns into a boundless running the gauntlet. "Tenet" is no longer logically tangible here. But as a dialogue excerpt in the first trailer and also in the film itself makes clear once again, it is better not to want to understand everything anymore and to let yourself be carried away by Nolan's uninterrupted flow of action, bombast, movement and confusion.
Of all the films in the director's career to date, "Tenet" is most reminiscent of "Inception", which understandably gave rise to many theories in advance about a connection between the two blockbusters or possibly a surprising sequel revelation. In fact, however, "Tenet" is more of a thematically related and structurally very similar continuation of the style of "Inception", which Nolan here intensifies even more radically. His mercilessly pushing the plot forward, however, also leads to the figures becoming more functional again. After Nolan had been very close to his characters in "Interstellar" and "Dunkirk", "Tenet" appears much cooler, more intellectual and more abstract in its character drawing. This time Nolan seems to comment on this step almost ironically himself, in that the main character is not even given a name and is only referred to as a protagonist. Despite the weakness on the figure level, however, the director's concept works. If he should finally attract a large audience into the cinemas again, "Tenet" should develop a similar explosive power as "Inception" did 10 years ago and inspire and occupy viewers for weeks on end. Nolan's return to the movie theaters is like a big bang, especially in Corona times, and unleashes the most powerful blockbuster of the year, which actually seems like the culmination of everything the director is always working towards.
"Tenet" fulfills the promise that Nolan has always made: A blockbuster full of astounding action sequences and glossy visuals, with a complex depth, which this time, more uncompromising than ever, bursts onto the viewer as a time puzzle.