Tenet: the end you see coming

Christopher Nolan’s new one-word movie, chosen both for its palindromic embodiment of the central conceit, and the convenient fact that it doesn’t mean very much, is the culmination of a reported five year development of what was, by this reviewer’s guess, its director’s germinal inspiration, or Jacob’s Ladder idea: namely, wouldn’t it be cool if you had a CGI action sequence in which half the elements moved backwards while the others moved forwards? That’s it. The rest is merely a frame for this stroke of genius.
Right from its deafening and disorienting opening scene of an infiltrated terrorist attack on a concert hall (curiously dubbed an ‘opera house’), Nolan’s gimmicky thriller disappointingly allows its tail to wag the dog, in the mistaken assumption that dizzying surface technique, loud music and inaudible dialogue will lull us into the belief that his new jigsaw puzzle fits together as well as his last. Unhappily, this elaboration on temporal themes from Memento and Interstellar, and the spatial-temporal distortions of Inception, is a cute idea with a charmless lead and storytelling that loses its audience after half an hour, then goes on for another two.
We all know about the paradoxes of time travel. We’ve seen lots of Back to the Future movies, and we have just recently been through six hours of Infinity wars. And so for the production to pose sagely as though it has weighty new ideas on the subject to justify another celluloid time travel conundrum, and then to fail to record dialogue its audience can even catch, is an error of hubristic proportions.
Small consolation: Elizabeth Debicki’s ability to emote where all about her seem to be there to model men’s fashions, and Branagh’s mesmerising Russian accent, which seems forever on the point of destroying what is an impressive turn in villainy. As for the action sequences, one’s response is rather, ‘Really?’