Movie review: Tenet
Christopher Nolan has outdone himself with Tenet.
Making it clever is simply not good enough any more.
Instead, the acclaimed auteur is showing off a film so ridiculously confounding, it makes his previous brainbusters like Memento, Inception and Interstellar look like a kindergartener's playbook.
Tenet is crazy ambitious, stuffed to the gills with so much style and even more substance - too much substance for our cerebral cortex to handle.
As the 21/2-hour opus tries to challenge, stretch and ultimately overpower the viewer, you may end up alienated from the material and utterly lost in the rabbit hole even as you try your best to keep up.
In an early scene, faced with the Protagonist's (John David Washington, son of Denzel) perplexed expression, a scientist expounds on the principles of inversion before adding: "Don't try to understand it, just feel it."
So yes, the whos, whats, whys, wheres, whens and hows will assault you non-stop until you give up and go with the flow.
Unfortunately, there is nothing to feel.
Or maybe you will feel that either the entire film is stupid, or YOU are stupid - which could be the biggest existential takeaway.
Tenet is most closely related to Inception (2010), in that it also blends and bends sci-fi, action and the espionage thriller, but at least we were emotionally invested in the fate of Leonardo DiCaprio's haunted professional extractor.
But it is difficult to care for the leads here, like Washington's top spy or his sidekick (Robert Pattinson), because they are accorded almost no backstory, just forgettable ciphers passing through space and time.
You are painfully aware that everyone is saying TERRIBLY IMPORTANT THINGS, but after a while, it is just words coming out of mouths. And at times, inaudibly too.
Concepts like time travel, entropy, "temporal pincer movement", the Manhattan Project and grandfather paradox are bandied about, but it is still a mystery what the deeper message is.
Luckily, with a US$200 million (S$273 million) budget, the stunning set pieces help us tolerate the unfathomable proceedings, from the opera attack opening to the airplane hangar crash to the novelty of the reverse-forward special effects (sometimes at the same time).
Ready for it or not, Tenet is still something you should experience at least once, as an experiment to test what your mind can endure. Maybe mainstream audiences of the future will "get" it, but in the present time, we remain none the wiser.
STARRING: John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Kenneth Branagh, Elizabeth Debicki
WRITER-DIRECTOR: Christopher Nolan
THE SKINNY: The Protagonist (Washington) journeys through a twilight world of international espionage as he embarks on a time-bending mission to prevent the start of World War III by a dangerous Russian oligarch (Branagh) who communes with the future.