tenet reviews

Tenet is finally here!

Well, not here, in the United States. But here, in the wider world – a world which handled the coronavirus pandemic much more responsibly than we have and therefore deserves nice things as a reward.

But is this new Christopher Nolan spy thriller good enough to be considered a reward? Or, after months of build up and an exhausting meta-narrative about this being the only film that can possibly save movie theaters from oblivion, does the whole thing collapse under the weight of unrealistic expectations? Here’s a roundup of Tenet reviews (including ours!) to give you a sense of what critics are saying. 

/Film critic Jason Gorber praised the movie’s gorgeous locations and “show-stopping spectacles,” and while he ultimately came away respecting and even liking many aspects of the film, it feels as if Nolan leans a bit too heavy on exposition:

Beyond the spectacle, there’s intense interest in crafting a film of deep complexity that’s still comprehensible to general audiences. To assist with that, the film provides almost as many lines of exposition as it does flurries of bullets, with even the closing remarks of the film providing an overt explanation of the events that just transpired. It can be a bit frustrating if you’ve been paying close attention along the ride, but maybe it’s hard to fault the need. The end result, unfortunately, is a film that presents itself as more dense than it really is, off-putting for some but repetitive and predictable for those attuned the magic trick that Nolan’s attempting to pull off.

The New York Times seemed to appreciate the movie the most among the reviews I’ve read so far, singling out the editing as particularly worthy of compliments:

We are a scant few minutes into the film’s 2½-hour run time and it has already delivered: the sequence ends with interior and exterior shots of an explosion, which the editor Jennifer Lame transforms with as perfect an action cut as ever there was. In that microsecond, we’re reminded of something the last few months have conspired to make us forget: cinematic scale. “Tenet” operates on a physiological level, in the stomach-pit rumbles of Ludwig Goransson’s score, and the dilated-pupil responses to Hoyte van Hoytema’s cinematography, which delivers the same magnificence whether observing a narratively superfluous catamaran race, or the nap and weave of Jeffrey Kurland’s immaculately creaseless costumes. Seriously, the most mind-boggling aspect of “Tenet” might be the ironing budget.

But the BBC says “the entire plot is rather predictable, which I suppose makes room for all the thinky physics stuff,” and talks about Nolan’s exploration of time in the film:

Nolan is challenging our preconceptions of time and suggesting there might be an alternative way of looking at it beyond a limited notion of linear progression. It’s confusing to begin with, but by about mid-way through the film starts to make narrative sense, to such an extent that plot twists at the end are rather predictable (or, maybe that’s some super clever meta-narrative device that validates the film’s conceptual argument).

Still, the movie’s action is at least on par with what we’ve come to expect from this filmmaker. As Variety says:

It plays best when it stops showing us its work and morphs into the fanciest James Bond romp you ever did see, complete with dizzy global location-hopping, car chases that slip and loop like spaghetti, and bespoke tailoring you actually want to reach into the screen and stroke.

Unfortunately, for nearly every outlet’s praise of the film’s scope and scale, its characters are evidently underwhelming. IndieWire barely had anything positive to say about the lot of them:

It’s a particular disappointment to observe [John David] Washington coached into beardy impatience, as if he sensed the casual disrespect in being asked to play a character his writer-director didn’t bother to name. (It’s possible he grew the facial hair while Nolan was explaining the plot.)

[Robert] Pattinson gives tremendous fringe, but his absurd cut-glass accent sounds a wise attempt to put distance between himself and Nolan’s ever-deteriorating dialogue (“It’s just an expression of faith in the mechanics of the world”). As [Kenneth] Branagh’s moll, Elizabeth Debicki is here to look good in deckwear and have guns held to her head; similarly capable supporting players (Martin Donovan, Dimple Kapadia, [Michael] Caine) offer gobbets of exposition before being packed off to payroll. “Tenet” suggests Nolan no longer has any interest in human beings beyond assets on a poster or dots on a diagram.

The Guardian is particularly harsh, saying that Pattinson’s character “just seems like some bloke who’s got drunk in Banana Republic’s scarf department,” and saying that they’re “not even sure that, in five years’ time, [the movie would] be worth staying up to catch on telly”:

You exit the cinema a little less energised than you were going in. There’s something grating about a film which insists on detailing its pseudo-science while also conceding you probably won’t have followed a thing. We’re clobbered with plot then comforted with tea-towel homilies about how what’s happened has happened.

The world is more than ready for a fabulous blockbuster, especially one that happens to feature face masks and chat about going back in time to avoid catastrophe. It’s a real shame Tenet isn’t it.

So…yeah. Not exactly what you want to hear from a movie that’s been built up as a savior of the cinemas. I look forward to seeing it myself (whenever a safe way to do that becomes available), but regardless of how anyone feels about it, this heightened, bizarre moment we find ourselves in will likely mean that we all could feel quite differently about this movie several years after the pandemic is over than we might upon first viewing.

Tenet hits international theaters on August 26, 2020, and arrives in some U.S. theaters on September 3, 2020.

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