Review: Tenet - A 'what-the-hell' thrill-ride that leaves you gripping the edge of your seat

‘Are you talkin’ to me?’

A film column by Jamie Hill

Okay, so there’s a lot to unpack here. It’s now been 24 hours since I left the cinema and I’m still trying to get my head around ‘what the hell’ just happened in Tenet - Christopher Nolan’s latest offering.

Like a lot of other people this was my first trip back to the cinema since before lockdown and the first thing I can say is that this was certainly an experience despite still being confused as to what I just watched.

For this extra special trip back to the flicks I chose Swindon’s new 4DX screen which has just opened at Shaw Ridge.

4DX is a new phenomenen in the UK. Essentially it makes your film experience more akin to a theme park ride than a sedentary experience. And I loved it. 

The seats moved around, juddering with every explosion. There was even a very intense scene where the seat pitched downwards leaving you feeling a tiny bit queasy as if your stomach is experiencing the same tension as the protaganists. Bullets whizzed about with air blowing out just by your head to make you feel part of the action and during windy scenes - you guessed it - it was windy. There was even a bit of water spray during a boat scene.

The 4DX also promised scent but the ‘smell’ thing didn’t really happen for me but probably because I was gorging on popcorn for the entire time so all I could smell was the aroma of the corn that goes pop.

It might not be everyone’s cup of tea but for me the 4DX really added to the experience and made me feel at times as if I was right there in amongst the action.

But how about the film itself I hear you ask in a bit of a whiney voice? (I get it, you’re not reading this for a review of 4DX but of Tenet and maybe I’m procrastinating a little as I really don’t know my feelings about the film yet.)

As mentioned, there’s a lot to unpack. On first glance the film is a spy thriller. Think more Bond than Dunkirk but it’s got some high sci-fi thrown in that will leave you feeling quite befuddled by the end of the experience. I think it was actually the intention of Nolan in creating this film to create confusion as it is essentially his most confusing piece since Inception.

Essentially the film involves time travel and reverse entropy. In this film nothing obeys physics. Cars travel backwards at times and bullets go back into the gun. It’s not exactly easy to understand.

But our heroes are tasked with saving the world and stopping an evil Russian oligarch, played menacingly and brilliantly by Kenneth Branagh, from ending the world by causing some kind of apocalypse that would not only destroy the present but also destroy the past.

The heroes are played by John David Washington (Denzel’s son who wowed everyone in 2018’s BlackkKlansman) and Robert Pattinson (the new Batman and also of Twilight fame) as they travel around the world jumping from one set-piece to the next.

As you’d expect Nolan is a master of the set-piece and in this Tenet does not disappoint. Everything is just so tense and so nerve-shredding throughout as you travel from a Ukraine opera house to a freeway chase that involves backwards car crashes and even a warzone with bullets flying forwards and backwards at the same time.

Washington plays the mysteriously monikered The Protaganist and he carries out his action duties with aplomb bringing a believability to his fight scenes, of which there are many, with pure brute force. Pattinson, as his British spy sidekick Neil, is fantastic played with a lightness of touch that sometimes the film sorely needs.

As a spectacle, for me, Tenet was a welcome return to the cinema after many months. It did exactly what you’d want from a film leaving you literally on the edge of your seat (the 4DX probably didn’t help in this respect) and although I’m still confused as to what actually happened I loved every second of it.

I could see this as a very divisive movie though. My colleague who attended the screening with me simply did not like it. He’s got a science background and essentially thought the film was trying too hard to be confusing using science that doesn’t really hold up if you really think about it.

But I’ve always been good at suspending my disbelief at the cinema and just enjoyed the ride. Although there are still points in the film I don’t think I’ll ever understand, I can live with that.

If there’s one film that will save cinema after lockdown this is definitely it. See it on a screen as big as you can find or even do what I did and see it at 4DX - you won’t regret it.