Even the best filmmakers make colossal blunders, and this comes from Christopher Nolan (Inception, Memento, The Dark Knight trilogy).
A $200+ million mistake on top of a miscalculation. In the midst of the pandemic, Nolan insisted that his sprawling, unfathomable sci-fi action-adventure be released in multiplexes despite the fact that people are more susceptible to the coronavirus when congregating indoors.
After he’s captured on a mission-gone awry, the CIA Protagonist (John David Washington, son of Denzel) must battle espionage to save the world, armed with only one word: Tenet.
His enemy is a Russian arms merchant (Kenneth Branagh), who has somehow gained control of a super-weapon called “inversion,” meaning the ability to manipulate things backwards through time. Not time travel. Inverted motion – like bullets loading back into guns after being firing and cars chasing each other in reverse gear.
Along for the bumpy ride are the Protagonist’s sidekick (Robert Pattinson) and the oligarch’s elegant, aloof, estranged wife (Elizabeth Debicki), who goes through a temporal turnstile.
Attempting to explain some of the Protagonist’s bewilderment is a scientist (Clemence Poesy) who tries to unravel its complexity, instructing: “Don’t try to understand it. Feel it.”
Going back to Tom Hardy’s muffled discourse as Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises,” British-American writer/director Nolan seems determined to garble dialogue beyond comprehension. Perhaps if you turned on the subtitles you might make some sense of it. But I’m not sure.
Instead, he concentrates on grandiose, special-effects action, employing dozens of stuntpeople in exotic locations. The opening sequence involves a terrorist attack on a classical concert, another is aboard a Boeing 747, then a catamaran and there’s a multi-car chase.
Keep in mind: ‘Tenet’ is a palindrome, spelled the same backward and forward, meaning you’ll see some of the same scenes twice in reverse chronology. Wrecked buildings self-repair and explosions funnel down.
FYI: Although he’s not mentioned, George Tenet headed the CIA from 1996 through 2004.
On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, Tenet is a tenuous 5, visually dazzling but absolutely impenetrable, now streaming on Prime Video