Christopher Nolan serves up some much-needed high-octane fun in Tenet

Tenet (M, 105 minutes)

4 stars

The film industry has survived a number of technical disruptors across its 100-plus years, from the arrival of radio, then television, video, cable and even streaming.

COVID, however, has caused the industry to partake in some serious navel-gazing. The major Hollywood studios, who have hundreds of millions of dollars invested in their bigger films, have moved release dates back multiple times in the hope that the pandemic disappears or audiences and cinemas find a way of safely reconnecting with each other.

John David Washington in Tenet. Picture: Supplied

John David Washington in Tenet. Picture: Supplied

Some haven't wanted to wear the risk of having their brand associated with a COVID cluster, and have moved their films straight to streaming services, while distributors of smaller-budget films have done the same because the mathematical probability of recouping their investment is low to non-existent while cinemas are only able to sell one-quarter of their seats.

But somebody has to take the plunge, wear the risk, and possibly prove that a big name film can bring audiences back to the cinema in something resembling their former numbers.

That film is Tenet, and the big name is director Christopher Nolan.

Nolan made his name with the 2000 film Memento which, while certainly not the first film to play around with narrative structure, drew a legion of devotees and plagiarists as though it was.

He would pick up Memento's thematic exploration of perception, reality and time in Inception in 2010, which despite his having already made two of the Christian Bale Batman films by this stage, put his name up in the stratosphere as one of the most influential and inventive contemporary directors.

It would mean he could go all-out weird with a three-hour kooky sci-fi epic, the 2014 Interstellar, and still be adored, and draw audiences en masse for another three hours of wartime grimness in which the heroes get their arses thoroughly kicked in Dunkirk in 2017.

The cinemas certainly think audiences will come out for him, as it seems to be on many of their screens, and there were enough appropriately distanced people at my Thursday opening night screening for them to feel encouraged.

Good news for cinemas is that the film is as good as many of its audience are hoping, and certainly worth making the trek to an old-fashioned hard-top cinema to experience it, and especially to immerse yourself in the base-y booming sound editing and the score by Ludwig Goransson.

That'll probably be a controversial statement as 'the internet' is apparently in agreement that Tenet has a muddy and difficult sound mix, but perhaps having to understand people talking behind COVID-safe face masks for weeks has over-trained my ears.

The film opens with a terrorist attack on a performance at a posh opera where a number of things aren't as they seem, and it's not just the second group of operatives hiding among the terrorists to pull off their own operation.

It is where we first meet The Protagonist (John David Washington), later tapped on the shoulder to take on a secret assignment to save the planet from World War Three in which, he is told, the weapon isn't nuclear but something that can unwind time itself.

Assisting him in his ambitious project is a moneyed insider (Michael Caine), a cynical British intelligence agent Neil (Robert Pattinson) and the wife (Elizabeth Debicki) of the Russian arms dealer (Kenneth Branagh) who seems to hold the key to the future threat.

Christopher Nolan has written an ambitious screenplay, and even though his many fans will expect some of his timey-wimey moves, there is enough science, pseudo-science and mobius-strip plotting to want repeat viewings to unpack.

The overlapping narratives of some characters playing chronologically forward and others (or, the same characters) also playing in reverse is a lot to take in.

As The Protagonist, John David Washington enjoys a deserved leading role. He already earned his stripes headlining Spike Lee's hilarious BlacKkKlansman.

Usually the leading man in films like the Twilight series, Robert Pattinson has tried his best to move into more meaningful roles and has loaned his star power to some fascinating low budget works. He gets many of the film's lighter moments.

While he is amazing in everything including this, I felt Michael Caine's presence was more a subtle nod to The Italian Job than any driving need for his character to be there, as Tenet is undoubtedly one of the most expensively-shot and ambitious caper/heist films, even if disguised as sci-fi.

The production team create some fantastically enjoyable big moments of cerebral high-octane fun that made the film's two-and-a-half hour run-time fly by.

This story Nolan's Tenet doesn't disappoint first appeared on The Canberra Times.