Tenet ★★

Entering 2020, Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” was the summer’s most keenly awaited event movie. Eight apocalyptic months on, it’s assumed the mantle of messianic cinema: a project aiming to blow minds, make a bundle, and thereby save the theatrical experience for all mankind. Beneath the parting clouds, there emerges a mere motion picture, screened in London this week ahead of next Wednesday’s European rollout.

And what kind of picture is it? Big, certainly: IMAX-scaled, and a hefty 150 minutes even after a visibly ruthless edit. It’s clever, too — yes, the palindromic title has some narrative correlation — albeit in an exhausting, rather joyless way. As second comings go, “Tenet” is like witnessing a Sermon on the Mount preached by a savior who speaks exclusively in dour, drawn-out riddles. Any awe is flattened by follow-up questions.

If you just want big, then “Tenet” is as big as the world, a scale Nolan flaunts by traversing the planet twice, in different directions. Within its opening half hour, we whizz around Kiev, where John David Washington is introduced heading up some sort of anti-terror taskforce; to Mumbai, where Washington encounters intelligence officer Robert Pattinson; then to London, where he dines with Michael Caine. (Among the movie’s less appealing spectacles: an 87-year-old eating steak in close up.) Later, we head to Oslo, scene of a smashing great plane/terminal interface; eventually, we reach a drowsy Mediterranean backwaters, where instead of Caine impersonations (too close to home), we’re diverted by Kenneth Branagh doing his best Werner Herzog as Russia’s top arms dealer. Ample consolation, in short, for all those holidays canceled in 2020.


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