I never thought I’d say I was even slightly underwhelmed by a latter day Christopher Nolan film, but such is the case with Tenet, a new pseudoscience mind bending espionage barnstormer from the filmmaker that didn’t so much blow my mind as tie it’s proverbial shoelaces in a knot. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it, there’s plenty to get excited by here, but swaths of the narrative feel dry and uninvolved, the central premise that should be rich and tantalizing is painfully underdeveloped and the main character is less a character than a blank game piece scooting around a chessboard of intrigue and action. He’s ‘The Protagonist’, given the ironically opaque title and played by John David Washington in a performance that is sadly devoid of much life or expression. Tasked with playing a vital part in an incoming Cold War whose implications reach beyond science and physics, he’s teamed up with 007-esque operative Neil, played by Robert Pattinson in a turn that’s blessedly engaging, subtle and picks up Washington’s slack. I don’t want to give too much away because the film’s secrets are pretty fun, as they race all over Europe smoking out vague intel, having fierce gun battles and car chases and trying to prevent… what, exactly? There’s a spectacularly nasty Bond villain played by Kenneth Branagh who is a genuinely scary, fascinating piece of work, and I greatly enjoyed his arc and that of his long suffering wife (Elizabeth Debicki, solid) as well as some well mounted, intricate action set pieces. There’s a quick Michael Caine cameo that exists purely so Nolan can seat him at a table for all of two minutes to deliver clipped exposition, and appearances from Martin Donovan, Fiona Dourif, Aaron Tyler Johnson and Clemence Poesy. Nolan makes his paradoxical concept so dense and intricate that by the time the scintillating finale rolls around, parts of it are so much in the clouds that you just raise your arms in defeat and go “ok bro” and trust that he knows what he’s doing, because I sure didn’t, yet perhaps will with some more viewings a lá Inception. That isn’t the bone to pick here though, it’s mainly the fact that the narrative feels rushed, staccato, unnatural in places and doesn’t possess the fluidity, grace, cohesion or focus of his earlier works. Half the time the dialogue and editing during interaction scenes is so brisk, so chopped up and so hurried that its tough to really be drawn in, before you’re off to the races in a flurry without a proper roadmap to prep you for the fun. There are some very exciting sequences involving the premise which I won’t spoil, some terrific character work courtesy of Branagh, Debicki and Pattinson. But man, Washington is just not a dynamic actor and can’t carry the weight expected of him, while much of the film’s setup isn’t strong enough for payoff later on that isn’t strong enough either. I loved the super sonic, unconventional score by Ludwig Göransson, the action is neatly photographed and intensely realized when its good, and somewhat incomprehensible when it falters, especially in a hectic third act paramilitary incursion that I’m sure made sense to Nolan on the drawing board, but comes across as pandemonium on film. There’s a lot to enjoy here, but I have to be real and say this could have been so much more, especially for an artist as accomplished as Nolan.