Armed with only one word, Tenet, and fighting for the survival of the entire world, a Protagonist journeys through a twilight world of international espionage on a mission that will unfold in something beyond real time.
On the list of directors whose films anticipation can rival Marvel or Disney studios, Christopher Nolan certainly sits among the top next to perhaps only Quentin Tarantino. Nolan is able to attract masses to film theaters with his promise of blending high concepts with smart, sophisticated scripts and spectacular productions.
As soon as it’s know he’s working on a new project, film fans chomp at the bit to know any little piece of information they can.
After releasing 2017’s Dunkirk, the filmmaker had expressed interest in moving on to something smaller in scope, akin to his earlier efforts of Memento and Insomnia. Instead, he decided to complete a script he had been developing for nearly twenty years, which tells of a CIA agent who must manipulate time to prevent something worse than World War III.
The script was completed in early 2019, with the cast assembled shortly after, recruiting John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki and Kenneth Branagh as our protagonists.
Filming began in May, taking place around seven countries. Because of the nature of the story and Nolan’s love for practical effects, work on the time twisting epic involved a crew of 250 people and an intricately complicated process where actors had to learn their stunts and dialogue forwards and backwards.
All appeared to go smoothly with fans excited for its initial release date of July 17th, 2020.
Then the world changed.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, theaters were shut down, forcing Warner Bros. Pictures to delay the film to July 31st. After it became clear that opening theaters was still not safe for audiences, it was delayed once more to August 12th and finally to August 26th with the United Sates seeing its release until September 3rd.
Because movie theaters found themselves in an unexpected vacuum for around 5 months, seriously hurt everyone in this line of business, Nolan has been viewed as a savior of sorts and expectations for the film – which were already high – are now massive, as both audiences and studios hope it will reignite the box office.
Fittingly, only time will tell whether Christopher Nolan will save the day with his newest epic – Tenet.
NOT TIME TRAVEL. INVERSION
Nolan is obsessed with time. His breakthrough film Memento tangled with time as you experienced the film in reverse order, Inception played with the concept of time moving slower within dreams and time went by exponentially faster as our protagonists were million of light years away from planet Earth in Interstellar. Therefore, Tenet feels like a natural culmination of his love for time based plots.
But few filmmakers other than Nolan can take such complex concepts and wrap it around an entertaining, action driven and confusing – perhaps even for some, at times frustrating – narrative. In fact, I don’t think any other director would be allowed to do so.
As with all time travel and time manipulation movies, your enjoyment for repeat viewings will greatly come into play as I’ll be shocked if anyone fully understands it the first time through. But as one of his characters mentions “Try not to understand it, but to feel it“.
Personally, I’m a big fan of these kind of movies where you discover new details every time, so I know I’ll be re watching Tenet for years to come.
FOR THE LOVE OF BOND
Next to the use of time, the filmmaker has always been an outspoken fan of James Bond, with the spy franchise being one of his main influences and his dream job. This love seeped into his Dark Knight trilogy through its use of gadgets (yes, Batman has always used gadgets, but you’ll notice that what the superhero has would fit into a Bond movie). On Inception, the third act is clearly inspired by On Her Majesty Secret Service’s snowy climax. Now he’s taken it one step further and made a full blown espionage thriller.
The dashing secret agent, the dangerous mission, the use of gadgetry, beautiful and exotic locations, a grand machiavellian villain bent on world destruction and beautiful women are all staples of the movies starring a certain secret agent who loves to drink martinis, which means if you’re fan of that franchise (as I am), you’ll feel right at home with the way they play around with these elements.
But because we’re dealing with Christopher Nolan, he couldn’t make a simple thriller, mixing tropes from spy films with his usual brand of head scratching stories. The result is an immensely fun, action packed, globe trotting adventure that makes for one of the most original and exciting movies within the genre in the last few years, second only to 007.
BIG, BOLD AND A BIT HARD TO HEAR
Even if it won’t have much competition this year, it’s safe to say that Tenet is the most fascinating, spectacular and bold movie I’ll see in 2020. Nolan and his team have crafted a challenging, exciting, original and visually beautiful epic which wowed me at every turn.
Every single element of this production is impeccable. Well, almost.
I know we don’t usually go into detail for what I didn’t like of a movie, but I feel it’s necessary to establish one small issue I had.
That is, the sound design, specifically, the dialogue. Because our characters use masks at various points along with an emphasis put on sound effects and music, it becomes very difficult to figure what exactly is being said at times. In any other movie, this may not be a problem, but in such an exposition heavy and complex story, you end up more confused that what was needed.
This is a deliberate decision from a known perfectionist such as Nolan and Academy Award winner sound editor Richard King as explained in this article, but it has the danger of alienating audiences.
Although I do ultimately find this to be a small issue that can be fixed in subsequent viewings through the use of subtitles, take this into consideration before watching it and make sure those ears are extra clean.
For a director whose action scenes were so heavily criticized in Batman Begins, Nolan has come a long way to perfect his craft to bring some exciting and iconic moments such as The Dark Knight‘s truck chase, its sequel’s opening airplane crash and the hallway fight from Inception.
That streak continues here.
A movie that deals with time going backwards presents the opportunity for some rather imaginative set pieces and the filmmakers take full advantage with Tenet continually raising the bar, delivering visually dazzling and immaculately choreographed action sequences that leave you breathless and on the edge of your seat.
After Nolan’s usual composer Hans Zimmer had to decline what would have been their 8th collaboration due to scheduling conflicts (Zimmer is currently working on 8 movies), he recommended his friend and colleague Ludwig Göransson.
Luckily the young composer – who has quickly gone up the ranks, recently having won an Academy Award for his work in Black Panther and an Emmy nomination for The Mandalorian – brings his unwavering talent for what may be one of the best scores of the year.
Although you can certainly sense Zimmer’s influence, Göransson is able to transcend it to establish a new and fresh kind of sound for the director.
Experimental, dazzling and daring, Göransson’s soundtrack proves to be just as unique and worthwhile as the film it accompanies, mixing synthetic sounds with traditional orchestra – even incorporating the director’s breathing as part of the theme for the villainous Sator – while playing with their orientation, making for a pulse pounding, disorienting and hypnotic experience.
- Posterity – Ludwig Göransson
- Foils – Ludwig Göransson
- Sator – Ludwig Göransson
You wanna crash a plane?
Well, not from the air. Don’t be so dramatic.
…well, how big a plane?
That part is a little dramatic.
How would you like to die?
You don’t appreciate the bombs that don’t go off.
- Contains no green screens, just practical effects. This includes the inversion sequences, for which director Christopher Nolan chose instead to shoot each scene twice: one time moving forward, and once with the actors doing everything backwards.
- One of director Christopher Nolan’s filmmaking traditions is to gather his cast and crew together before production begins and screen movies that served as inspiration to the project they’re working on together. For this film, however, Nolan intentionally broke his longstanding tradition and didn’t host any screenings. He wanted the cast and crew to work from a feeling and memory of the spy genre (including the James Bond films), as opposed to trying to recreate them.
- Has only 280 VFX shots, less than most romantic comedies. This number is also low for director Christopher Nolan himself. The Dark Knight (2008) featured 650 VFX shots, The Dark Knight Rises (2012) had 450, Inception (2010) around 500, and Dunkirk (2017) contained only 429 visual effects shots.
- Tenet – Behind the Scenes