Tenet (2020) a (Very Mildly) Belated Review

I watched the film yesterday and, honestly, it feels like maybe I should wait until I see it again before offering a review.

However, given the film runs 2 hours and 30 minutes, I don’t know when I’ll get that chance. Besides, I think I got most of what the film was about but will acknowledge it is quite deep and it does, like the best of director/writer Christopher Nolan features, ask the audience to think and not just passively watch what goes on screen.

Having said all that, the film is essentially a James Bond movie -specifically the 1965 film Thunderball– mixed with time travel elements.

Indeed, as the hours passed following seeing the movie, the more and more I realized the movie’s basic plot was indeed a variation of Thunderball. Just for the hell of it, here’s the trailer to that film:

While not one of the best of the Sean Connery Bond films and perhaps the first one (it was the fourth made) to start showing a little wear on the whole Bond formula, Thunderball nonetheless is an entertaining large scale Bond film involving the theft of a nuclear device and Bond’s attempts to get it back before its used to start a nuclear war… and possible Armageddon.

The film’s villain, Largo, is essentially duplicated in Tenet’s Sator (played with menace -and an at times silly Russian accent, by the very British Kenneth Branagh). Sator, like Largo, is very rich and spends plenty of time on his very large and luxurious yacht. Like in Thunderball, Sator is intent on getting a device which could spell the end of the world, only in his case its something that affects time itself.

The movie features John David Washington as “Protagonist”, a no-name hero who, after showing he’s willing to die for his the right cause, is “recruited” into a shadowy world where time is fluid and can run backwards. The fate of humanity is on the line, and with the help of his right hand man Neil (Robert Pattinson in a sorta/kinda Felix Leiter role), they navigate the current situation and devise a way to stop Sator from ending the world.

To do this, they have to go through his wife Kat (Elizabeth Debicki, quite good) who is being held on a leash by Sator and suffers greatly from this.

The movie certainly has a Inception-like quality along with its James Bond theme, and there wasn’t a moment where I wasn’t enjoying myself.

However, after the film was finished, there were certain problems with the plot that, at least for me, reared their head. Sadly, when you deal with time travel, especially where various characters are able to do so at will, one begins to wonder why the hero or villain don’t just go “back” to where they can fix things so they succeed and their nemesis fails.

I don’t want to get into SPOILERS, but this is increasingly the case toward the film’s ending. While Mr. Nolan tries to explain away these discrepancies with talk of the Grandfather paradox and fate and history being “set”, the reality is that until time travel is a reality, there is no reason to think we can’t go in time and “reset” the past.

The Grandfather paradox, for example, involves the idea that if we can travel back in time and kill our Grandfather before he conceives one’s father, how is it possible for you (the grandson/daughter) to even exist to go back in time to then kill your Grandfather? Wouldn’t you cease to exist if you were to kill your Grandfather before your father/mother was conceived? But then how did you exist to be able to go and possibly do this to your Grandfather?

It’s a philosophical question, one which has no answer, but I would argue that if time travel were possible (which is an open question, to say the least!) then the idea of multiverses and alternate timelines has to be considered. Thus, you could kill your Grandfather which would change the timeline and mean you now come from a timeline where your Grandfather lived but now, in this new one, the lineage stops yet you can theoretically continue to exist.

I know I’m probably botching the explanation, but its the best I can do off the top of my head.

So, if i do believe that timelines can change, I obviously believe that nothing is set in stone once you move from one time to another. You therefore can murder Adolf Hitler as a baby and, while WWII could still happen, it will do so without Hitler’s presence.

Similarly, some of the things which happen toward the end of Tenet, to my mind, don’t have to happen the way they do. We could simply go back to other points in time to resolve or screw them up worse!

As I said, Nolan movies sure can make you think.

Overall, Tenet is an easy recommendation, a film that borrows the best of James Bond and marries it with some brain twisting time travel. It moves like lightning and is filled with surprises and big set pieces.

Yeah, an easy recommendation.