Tenet review: Christopher Nolan’s new time-twister can’t top Inception – CNET


tenet-2020

John David Washington’s word is bond in Tenet.

Melinda Sue Gordon/Warner Bros. Pictures

Christopher Nolan is back to turn back the clock. The maestro of brainy blockbusters delivers a new film at a time when the movie industry is desperate to go back to the era before COVID-19 closed theaters, and fittingly enough it’s based around eye-popping time-bending action. But is Tenet in the wrong place at the wrong time? 

The film begins in a crowded theater, an incongruous sight that’s become more charged in the time of the coronavirus pandemic. Coincidentally, characters also spend a lot of time in face-obscuring respirators, which feels fitting as many viewers will be wearing masks too — for a bum-numbing 2 hours and 30 minutes. Covering the faces of the stars doesn’t exactly help the viewer, as it’s hard enough to keep track of the plot even when you can see everybody’s face. 

But that’s just the small stuff. The big question is whether it’s safe to go to the movies, and that depends where you are. Like all film fans, you may want to support cinema, and the movie industry has a lot riding on Tenet as the only remaining summer blockbuster with any chance of getting viewers back into desperate theaters. But even the most intricately choreographed action scene isn’t worth risking your health. 

Tenet opens internationally Aug. 26, and in the US Sept. 3 (here’s how to avoid spoilers online). The good news is the movie is machine-crafted for watching in different formats. See it on the big screen and you’ll get an eyeful of the spectacle, or you can wait for streaming and TV to watch with the aid of subtitles. And a notebook. And several lengthy Reddit threads.

John David Washington is insanely watchable as he swaggers from one fight to the next, doing chin-ups dangling over sheer drops and going through more outfits than a model in an issue of Esquire. He’s the Black James Bond of this shadowy world, barely wrinkling his three-piece suit as he takes out bullet-headed Russian mercs with whatever kitchen implements come to hand. He’s not the guy they send to negotiate, but he is the guy they send to get things done and look good doing it. 

Speaking of 007, the shadow of other superspies inevitably hangs over Tenet. A globetrotting adventure full of beautiful people doing ugly things, Tenet’s plot is built on the classic Bond film formula with a dash of Thunderball here, a flash of The Man With the Golden Gun there, a garnish of Skyfall on top. But Nolan carries it off with such verve, the real James Bond has a fight on his hands when he returns in November’s No Time to Die.

For any other director, Tenet might feel like an audition for the famous spy franchise, but Dr. No-lan doesn’t need to prove he can make a Bond film. Instead, he’s proven there’s nothing like a Christopher Nolan film. When it comes to smart and spectacular blockbusters with a sci-fi twist, nobody does it better. Which does mean Nolan has set a high bar for himself, and Tenet has to stretch to better the very similar Inception.

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