The Protagonist—as the end credits name him, played by John David Washington—is a CIA agent tasked with tracking down the “entropy inverting” technology. An arms dealer in Mumbai tells him he must find a billionaire Russian arms dealer by the name of Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh). A British intelligence agent (Robert Pattinson) helps the Protagonist, advising him to make the connection through Sator’s wife, Kat (Elizabeth Debicki), who lives in fear of her husband. Nasty villain, chill hero, the fate of the world in the balance: standard thriller stuff with a commendably nonstandard amount of offensive material. Rated PG-13, the film has largely bloodless violence, little sensuality, and infrequent bad language—as far as I could hear.
The spectacular visual effects pop on the big screen. The Protagonist bungee plunges at night from a Mumbai high-rise. An Audi SUV speeding in reverse chases a BMW down a highway. A time-flipped bullet is sucked back into a gun as a pane of glass unshatters, and a collapsed building reassembles. Two men moving through time in opposite directions engage in hand-to-hand combat. In the finale, two allied squads of soldiers descend on an abandoned Soviet city. One fights forward through time, while the other engages the enemy entirely in backward motion. The seamless on-screen blending of the two time frames is quite remarkable to watch.
Making sense of the film is another thing altogether.
“Don’t try to understand it,” a scientist tells the Protagonist early in the film. “Feel it.” That’s probably good advice for viewers, too.