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Blockbusters are back… with a baddie to make Bond blush! KATE MUIR reviews Tenet

Tenet (12A)

Rating:

Christopher Nolan’s spy thriller Tenet is a mind-boggling and time-bending spectacle: A hugely anticipated blockbuster which should end months of darkness in cinemas.

Audiences will be high on the sheer energy of the no-expenses-spared action: A bullet-pumping bunker bust, a crash staged using a real Boeing 747 (well, that’s one way of getting rid of those retired jumbo jets), and astonishing car chases that enter another dimension.

The film stars John David Washington as an American secret agent known only as The Protagonist and Robert Pattinson as his deceptively languid British counterpart Neil.

Christopher Nolan’s spy thriller Tenet is a mind-boggling and time-bending spectacle: A hugely anticipated blockbuster which should end months of darkness in cinemas

Christopher Nolan’s spy thriller Tenet is a mind-boggling and time-bending spectacle: A hugely anticipated blockbuster which should end months of darkness in cinemas

They try to foil Andrei, a psychotic ex-Soviet arms dealer (Kenneth Branagh with a hokey accent), who has dastardly plans.

So far, so Bond. But Nolan takes the spy game to chess grandmaster level, as time inverts in a parallel universe. 

The British director of Dunkirk has played similar tricks in other films such as Interstellar, Inception and Memento, but there is almost a childish pleasure to be had here in seeing events reel surprisingly backwards. 

Even the film’s title is a palindrome.

John David Washington (pictured) is a smart, muscular hero, as comfortable killing in SWAT team gear as he is in a Savile Row suit, walking out of carnage and casually fastening just the top button of his single-breasted jacket, as a gentleman should

John David Washington (pictured) is a smart, muscular hero, as comfortable killing in SWAT team gear as he is in a Savile Row suit, walking out of carnage and casually fastening just the top button of his single-breasted jacket, as a gentleman should

Washington (who starred in BlacKkKlansman) is a smart, muscular hero, as comfortable killing in SWAT team gear as he is in a Savile Row suit, walking out of carnage and casually fastening just the top button of his single-breasted jacket, as a gentleman should.

Pattinson leaves Twilight firmly behind as a too-cool-for-public-school chap with a steely interior. Oddly, the spies’ code phrase is ‘We live in a twilight world,’ which may be an in-joke.

The significance of bespoke tailoring in this movie is made clear when Michael Caine – who featured in Nolan’s Dark Knight Batman trilogy – turns up for five minutes to give The Protagonist espionage advice over steak and chips in a private gentleman’s club in London.

Talking of tailoring, the film’s best clothes-horse is Elizabeth Debicki (pictured), who plays Andrei’s wife Kat, and gets to show off some achingly perfect couture while working in a posh English auction house

Talking of tailoring, the film’s best clothes-horse is Elizabeth Debicki (pictured), who plays Andrei’s wife Kat, and gets to show off some achingly perfect couture while working in a posh English auction house

He explains to him that his American Brooks Brothers suit won’t cut it in English society, and offers to recommend a tailor.

‘You British don’t have a monopoly on snobbery,’ says The Protagonist. ‘No, but we have a controlling interest,’ says Caine’s character, delivering the sartorial death blow.

Talking of tailoring, the film’s best clothes-horse is Elizabeth Debicki, who plays Andrei’s wife Kat, and gets to show off some achingly perfect couture while working in a posh English auction house. 

No wonder Debicki – who also starred in BBC’s The Night Manager – has been picked to play Princess Diana in The Crown. 

   

More from Kate Muir For The Daily Mail…

At 6ft 2in, Kat is an English rose gone rampant, trapped in a marriage which takes coercive control to new heights of nastiness.

Nolan sometimes neglects the emotional heart of his films in his desire for breathtaking cinematography and grandiose action.

In Tenet, he attempts to create a poignant core with Kat and her young son, who is used as a pawn in Andrei’s games.

But there’s something faintly unbelievable about the relationship. Debicki’s character seems too intelligent for victimhood. 

Besides, there is barely time to catch your breath, let alone invest in a relationship, as Tenet bounces round the world from India to Estonia, Norway to London, with a stop-off on a superyacht moored off Italy.

For those of us fresh out of lockdown, and subject to new travel sanctions imposed every week, it’s thrilling stuff.

Even watching the opening scene, a cello-smashing showdown at the Kiev opera, had me thinking not ‘Oh my goodness! Terrorists with bombs!’ but ‘Wow! Thousands of people in a room… without masks!’

In fact, the film takes on unintentional resonances in the days of Covid-19.

Audiences will be high on the sheer energy of the no-expenses-spared action: A bullet-pumping bunker bust, a crash staged using a real Boeing 747 (well, that’s one way of getting rid of those retired jumbo jets), and astonishing car chases that enter another dimension

Audiences will be high on the sheer energy of the no-expenses-spared action: A bullet-pumping bunker bust, a crash staged using a real Boeing 747 (well, that’s one way of getting rid of those retired jumbo jets), and astonishing car chases that enter another dimension

‘As I understand it, we’re trying to prevent World War III,’ says a scientist to The Protagonist.

‘Nuclear holocaust?’ he asks.

‘No, something else…’ she answers. At that point, I wanted to shout out: ‘Global pandemic!’

You’ll have to wear a face mask for two-and-a-half hours, in a popcorn-free auditorium – but Tenet is worth the discomfort.

The film is the clever, exhilarating comeback that cinemas – and audiences – have been waiting for.

Tenet is released on Wednesday

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