Those of you seeing Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker in IMAX theaters this weekend will receive a bonus: the first six minutes of Christopher Nolan’s latest mind-bending thriller, Tenet. Releasing July 17, 2020, the film stars John David Washington and Robert Pattison in a globe-trotting thriller.
Nolan often teases his upcoming movie by attaching the opening IMAX-film action sequence to a hot release at the end of the previous year. While it’s hard to glean much of what Tenet is truly about, it does give audiences an idea of what to expect. Nolan fans should be more than pleased, others need not bother.
The prologue begins at an enormous concert hall somewhere in Russia, where a grand orchestra is getting ready to begin a performance. A well-dressed man is seated in one of the balcony suites with two bodyguards. As the performance is about to begin, terrorists emerge from behind the orchestra and take the entire hall hostage.
Meanwhile, a van sits outside with two Russian drivers. They wake up “the Americans” in the back, including Washington, all of whom are apparently Special Forces or mercenaries without any identifiable affiliation. Russian police patches are placed on their arms, and they’re sent into the concert hall.
As Washington makes his way up to the aforementioned balcony suite, the rest of his operatives stay in the concert hall, putting on masks so they can gas the entire hall and everyone in it. Washington makes contact with the well-dressed man, they exchange spy-like code phrases to confirm each other’s identity, and Washington retrieves the man to bring him back to the van.
Back down in the concert hall, Washington has the man change into a Special Forces uniform to better sneak him out. However, one of Washington’s operatives accosts him as this is happening, apparently unaware of what Washington is doing. This operative is killed by another, who confirms Washington’s mission and helps him and the (formerly) well-dressed man get out of the hall alive.
Before leaving, Washington plants a bomb, which detonates just as Washington and his team run out of the concert hall. Everyone inside is presumably killed. But once back inside the van, it appears that the man Washington extracted was not the man he was supposed to get. The Russian van drivers seem (understandably) angry about this.
The prologue then ends with a mash-up for various money shots from throughout the movie, showing us brief glimpses of Washington, Pattison, and Elizabeth Debicki in various locales around the world. The footage ends with Washington and Pattison in a car chase, watching as a crashed car un-crashes before their eyes. So it’s apparently a time-travel movie, or a movie about time manipulation being weaponized.
It’s a confusing and disorienting start to a movie, par for the course for Nolan. That’s not a criticism; Nolan is a well-known Michael Mann fan, another director who enjoys throwing audiences into the deep end and making them sink or swim on their own. Visually, Tenet looks great, with the 15-perf, 70mm IMAX footage looking exquisite. Rich contrast and visible film grain are Nolan staples.
What’s grating about Nolan’s style is audio. The mix is perhaps louder than Dunkirk‘s, Ludwig Göransson’s admittedly propulsive score threatens to blow out the theater’s subwoofer (his Hans Zimmer impression is very good), and dialog is barely intelligible. (There’s a good chance I missed something in my description of the prologue, and feel free to let me know if I did.)
Nolan isn’t a visual storyteller; he relies on characters dumping reams of exposition on his audience so that they understand what he’s trying to do. It’s difficult for that to happen when we can’t even understand what they’re saying. This problem has plagued Nolan ever since Bane.
Nevertheless, Tenet looks undeniably exciting and will likely be one of the more interesting blockbusters on the docket for 2020. Check out the theatrical trailer for Tenet below. Stay tuned to Nerd it Here First for continued coverage of Tenet, as well as our inevitable review on the website and discussion on The Watchmen!