Watching 'Tenet' plunges you into a world that is undoubtedly Nolan-esque. Time travel, shots bursting with action, stellar graphics and a plot that will bend your head over and tie your hair to your shoelaces. It is very recognisable and for hardcore fans, it will be satisfying enough. However, Nolan's latest, and what seems to be his most passionate project, is lacking in emotional depth, leaving at least some viewers puzzled and perhaps even disappointed.
We follow the mysterious unnamed Protagonist as he escapes death during a CIA operation, only to find himself in a strange plot that involves an apocalyptic end-of-the-world scenario but with time travel. Strange technology from the future that can reverse the flow of time has begun entering the timeline. Together with an aide Neil, who seems to know too much, the Protagonist must try to stop the world from plunging into a disaster.
'Tenet' has neither the heart of 'Interstellar' nor the pulse of 'Inception'. It is turgid, filled with too much exposition and too little time for absorbing information, lost in its own image, which is not helped by the plot.
This is not to say that the plot is terrible. It is not. But it requires too much investment, which doesn't allow for much else. There is also a subtle anti-natalist and environmental message in the film that only appears at the end as though it were a kind of last warning for the audience. The idea of time-travel and "inversion" is written and depicted well, such that it is easy for the layman to grasp which is the highlight of the film.
John David Washington carries the Protagonist quite well but is not entirely successful, appearing slick and sophisticated on the outside but with little depth. He is outshone by Robert Pattinson as Neil, whose steady presence and quiet charm captivate the viewer.
But if the Protagonist is the King on the chessboard then Kat (played by a very good Elizabeth Debiki) who brings some emotional investment and humanity into what is otherwise a very cold movie. Nolan brings a very subtle feminist angle to this movie by quietly placing women in roles of great importance, and giving them agency to carry out the plot, without resorting to theatrics. This subtlety is also something which makes the film eminently enjoyable as the audience is prompted to pick up details and pay close attention to what is happening.
Kenneth Branagh is very good as the villain Andrei Sator. There is nothing particularly new about a nihilistic Russian antagonist dealing with nuclear business in a Hollywood film but Branagh tries his best to give some depth to the character.
The cinematography by Hoyt van Hoytema is perfect, sweeping across the landscape or capturing small details in the sides of the shots; the fights are intricately choreographed; everything is technically brilliant but surprisingly dull for a movie that has so much going on. Even the colour scheme is drab with nihilistic shades of steel, black and blue. This, along with the highly complicated plot creates an emotional vacuum. The background score by Ludwig Göranssen also contributes to this by often being overly-loud or simply ever present in scenes where silence or ambient sound would have worked better.
Overall, it is a movie that hardcore Nolan fans will enjoy and others less invested will find to be a puzzling, if interesting, one-time watch.