Christopher Nolans’ latest blockbuster, Tenet, is the first big film of 2020 to be released after the easing of lockdown restrictions, allowing people back into the cinemas, whilst socially distant.

Nolan’s sci-fi spectacle is well crafted and delivers in many areas which will certainly entice viewers to return to see a Tenet on the big screen.

Tenet is an enthralling tale of good against evil, or in this case, the Protagonist, as is the name of the main character, played by John David Washington, against the antagonist, Andrei Sator, a Russian oligarch played by Kenneth Branagh, who is beset on harnessing travel between the past and present.

Washington must travel through temporal zones to track down Andrei Sator and prevent him from destroying the world. The storyline is one of espionage, action, trust and intelligence which leads the Protagonist through passages of different dimensions whilst he must make sense of mind-bending theories about time in order to defeat Sator.

An estimated budget of $153 million is used to full effect by Nolan, supported by special effects supervisor Scott R Fisher. From the outset, Nolan captivates the audience with immediate action and creates a sense of disorientation and intrigue for the viewer. This continues throughout the film which remains engaging through the depth of the plot and the twists that ensue between the Protagonist and Sator.

The visual aspect of the film really does deliver. By using the scale of huge objects in motion, such as aeroplanes and skyscrapers, Nolan really does bring the audience into the action and almost creates a sense of intimidation which suits the feel of Tenet. Panoramic shots of a range of locations throughout the world such as Mumbai and Tallinn are also absolutely breath-taking and transport the audience into the heart of the story.

An original score also compliments the dark and gritty style of Tenet with deep strings and orchestra’s helping to build the film and entice viewers into moments of realization and importance. The overwhelming use of gunfire, inverse explosions and car chases is not overused and provides other sensory elements of the film that keeps us moving with the pace of the story.

Big blockbuster names also feature in supporting roles which complement Washington’s all-action role well. Robert Pattinson plays Neil, the Protagonists sidekick and advisor, while Elizabeth Debecki plays Andrei Sator’s wife who works with the Protagonist and Neil in an attempt to gain revenge on her husband. Of course how can we not mention Bollywood’s Dimple Kapadia who has a very important role and helps carry the story forward.

Despite the high importance of the supporting roles, Washington dominates the screen with a fantastic performance providing intensity and grit along with the very occasional light-hearted moment through well-placed quips in the dialogue.

However, although Washington is excellent, the reliance on him is an element where the film begins to lose its punch. While the Protagonist and Sator continue to clash throughout the film at pivotal moments, the supporting cast plays important roles which help Washington to fulfil his duties as the hero.

Yet, they aren’t celebrated as much as they should be. Despite the likes of Pattinson, Debicki, Himesh Patel and the mischievous Dimple Kapadia, all offering big performances in bit-parts, Washington features in almost every scene with little relief from the grittiness of his task while we are left almost surprised when some of the other cast appear after plenty of action has been and gone.

Whilst Nolan delivers on the big-hitting action, enthralling special effects and daunting landscapes, the film becomes confused with over-complication. A film of Tenet’s length needs some light relief as the constant, deep, philosophical and scientific dialogue between characters can leave viewers confused about key developments in the plot.

Following the storyline is heavy going. As Nolan has already shown through the likes of Inception, Interstellar and Dunkirk, the intensity never lets up. There are plenty of twist and turns, but almost too many. At times, this leads to confusion over what the main characters are trying to achieve while the use of extremely technical, scientific terms does help to explain what Nolan is trying to achieve, but instead, this takes away from the enjoyment of the film. Sometimes, the film can feel like a university physics lecture exploring the realms of time and space, and this removes some of the pace and excitement of Tenet.

Tenet is a film for the big screen. Watching such a spectacle anywhere else than a cinema would leave a sense of unfulfillment. It would be best experienced through a sensory cocktail of great visuals and emotional sound that Nolan always provides.

Yet, the intellectual element of the film is perhaps too much in Tenet and, even for a thoughtful, deep thinker like Nolan, some relief was needed throughout. A break from the seriousness of Washington’s Protagonist would have been welcomed, while a prior understanding of the use of temporal travel and inversion would also help to grasp the film.


The film releases in UK cinemas on Friday 28 August