Christopher Nolan has long been established as one of Hollywood's premier blockbuster directors, making a name for himself as someone with a knack for delivering ambitious, visually stunning tentpoles that demand to be seen on the biggest of screens. His newest offering, Tenet, was poised to be the latest in a growing line of captivating blockbusters, but its release was disrupted by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. After premiering only in theaters back in the fall, Tenet is now coming to various home media platforms, allowing more people to finally see what Nolan's next movie is all about. Tenet is a fascinating and exciting sci-fi thriller bolstered by Nolan's grand vision for action and strong performances from the cast.
In Tenet, John David Washington stars as a character known only as the Protagonist, a CIA agent who's recruited by the Tenet organization to investigate a potentially apocalyptic scenario. The Protagonist is made aware of a concept called time inversion, in which objects or people are able to move backwards through time. He is tasked with unraveling the mystery of the Algorithm, a weapon from the future sent back to wipe out the past. Teaming up with operative Neil (Robert Pattinson), the Protagonist's mission sees him cross paths with Russian billionaire Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh) as he tries to save the world.
Nolan demonstrates why he's one of the industry's best craftsmen on Tenet, staging a number of epic set pieces that rank among the finest of his career. From its opening moments, Tenet announces itself as an action-packed thrill-ride, with Nolan's practical filmmaking techniques and Ludwig Göransson's pulsing score immersing audiences in the film. Characteristically, Nolan makes terrific use of the IMAX format to complement Tenet's action sequences, painting on a fittingly large canvas to further draw viewers in. While there will always be a debate concerning Tenet's original release, it's evident why Nolan was adamant the film play in theaters. Still, even on home TV screens, Tenet feels very cinematic, making it the ideal movie for those with home theater systems. Complaints about the sound mixing are warranted, but Tenet otherwise boasts tremendous technical merits - including Hoyte van Hoytema's cinematography and Nathan Crawley's production design.
Tenet's script sees Nolan once again play with bold and imaginative ideas to elevate the simpler story at the film's core. Similar to how Inception blended a heist movie with its dream concept, Tenet makes its story of preventing armageddon standout with time inversion. There's refreshingly little hand-holding when it comes to this premise, as Nolan trusts the audience to keep up with the exposition he delivers throughout the film. The time inversion makes Tenet more complex than a standard espionage thriller, but the story is still clear enough to follow - and repeat viewings are definitely warranted to watch how it all comes together and explore its ideas. In addition to the genre aspects, Nolan injects an emotional through-line in Tenet, as the Protagonist looks to help Sator's wife Kat (Elizabeth Debicki) escape an abusive marriage. This subplot may not resonate as strongly as Cobb's family in Inception or Cooper and Murph's dynamic in Interstellar, but it's still a strong hook that lets viewers become more invested in the story. Debicki's performance as Kat is a big reason why, with the actress channeling her character's pain to make her a sympathetic figure.
Elsewhere in the cast, Washington is cool and confident as the Protagonist, carrying the film and demonstrating his leading man chops. He makes for a convincing action hero, doing his own stunts in what is a physically demanding role. Tenet is another illustration that Washington is one of the brightest stars working today. In his return to high-profile tentpole fare, Pattinson is very good as Neil, turning in a playful and nuanced performance. He has several great interactions with Washington, as the two make for a dynamic duo to guide audiences through Tenet's plot. The film has a largely serious tone, but both actors are still given moments of levity to make their turns well-rounded. Branagh is a truly despicable villain that is easy for viewers to hate. His character doesn't have as much depth to him as others, but his performance is still very effective for what the film needs and he gets some chilling scenes.
Tenet is bound to have a complicated legacy due to the controversy surrounding its initial release and the fallout from its box office performance, but the film itself is another great example of why Nolan is one of the best helmsmen in the industry. Tenet was one of 2020's most anticipated movies for a reason, and now that it's readily (and safely) available, it's poised to fill a void of major releases just in time for the holidays. Fans of Nolan's previous work, those who enjoy heady sci-fi, and general audiences curious to see what the director has in store will get something out of it. Tenet is a film worth watching, discussing, and watching again.