To say Christopher Nolan’s Tenet has been massively hyped is an understatement. It hits international markets this Wednesday and will open in the U.S. cities where theaters are reopened on Labor Day Weekend before continuing to roll out to other cities in the U.S. as they reopen.
Overseas and in select markets in the U.S., critics have gotten to screen it, as well as fans who got access to special event early screenings, and their reactions have been rolling in. The reactions have been mixed to positive and it’s worth keeping in mind the mixed reactions are likely skewed; it’s virtually impossible for a movie so overhyped to live up to everyone’s expectations. The consensus is that while it may not be Nolan’s best work, it’s still a damned good movie and a great time at the theater.
First off, the good:
It’s Hugely Entertaining Spectacle
The highlight of all the reviews is that regardless of how you feel about everything else, Tenet is a really entertaining time.
Jessica Kiang – The New York Times
“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.”
Jason Gorber – /Film
“A driving force for thrillers like this are the many exotic and photogenic locations, and the film doesn’t hesitate to put their characters in some heightened environments. From carbon fiber sailing yachts to Danish windfarms in the middle of the ocean, the scope is quite impressive. We see glimpses of India, Italy, Norway, the U.K., the U.S. and Estonia, the latter providing the setting for a massive sequence that takes place on a highway, with cars slamming from all directions of space and time. There are show-stopping spectacles at an airport using as much practical effect capacity as possible, another of Nolan’s common flourishes, making some of his earlier explosive events seem positively paltry.”
Eddie Makuch – Gamespot
“Tenet’s story involves incredibly high stakes. Early on, it’s suggested that the villain, Kenneth Branagh’s Andrei Sator, wants to bring about World War III, but it’s actually much worse than that. The movie begins in a literally explosive and violent manner, similar in heart-racing action to the beloved beginning of Nolan’s The Dark Knight. This shocking opening sets the tone for what to expect throughout–and that is to constantly be on guard and braced for the unexpected.”
Guy Lodge – Variety
“But it’s also just a movie: a big, brashly beautiful, grandiosely enjoyable one that will provide succor to audiences long-starved for escapist spectacle on this beefy, made-for-Imax scale.”
Jonathan Romney – The Los Angeles Times
“But gradually (and you have to admire Nolan for stringing us along at his leisure), things get weirder. Matters come to a head in a delirious car chase, the Protagonist driving in one direction while Sator’s car speeds backward. About midway, Nolan spectacularly ramps up this backward-forward simultaneity: a battle sequences involves a “temporal pincer movement,” with two army detachments working together, but in different directions in time.”
Shannon Connellan – Mashable
“Tenet’s deployment of stupefying practical special effects is pure wizardry. You’ll see every last dollar of Nolan’s reportedly over $200 million dollar budget with each big action moment becoming a puzzle in itself, leaving the audience scrambling to figure out how the hell Nolan’s team did it. Wielding all Nolan’s best secret weapons including director of photography Hoyte van Hoytema, Tenet’s big action scenes are nothing short of spectacular.”
Also, Can We Talk About Those Suits?
As seems to be required of a slick spy movie, Tenet also gets praise for the high-end, stylish costuming of the men in the movie.
“You know the setup, if you’ve watched James Bond films: luxe location shoots, a highly-skilled, witty protagonist, a friendly sidekick, a crazed billionaire villain, extremely well-tailored suits.”
“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.”
“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.”
And now, the mixed portion of the reviews…
You Might Find It Hard To Connect With
Critics (and some fans) conceded that while Tenet is an entertaining movie, it’s awfully hard to connect with the characters. However, that’s the same criticism that’s dogged Nolan his entire career, that his penchant for leaning into the cerebral aspects of the film run the risk of them being all head, no heart. Thus far, it hasn’t seemed to hurt him, so if you’re a Nolan fan, the lack of emotional weight and character development might not bother you as much.
“Tenet dazzles the senses, but it does not move the heart — a criticism common to all of Nolan’s original films. And other widely recognized Nolan blind spots are also in evidence: it’s depressing that as fine an actress as Debicki should be saddled with such a cipher role, given a son in lieu of a character and made responsible for the story’s only bad decisions.”
Leslie Felperin – The Hollywood Reporter
“Altogether, it makes for a chilly, cerebral film — easy to admire, especially since it’s so rich in audacity and originality, but almost impossible to love, lacking as it is in a certain humanity.”
“Alongside time-related details, character motivations and the true nature of their connections are left lightly explained, which almost makes the film feel like the first in a series. Though leads John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, and Elizabeth Debicki bring a level of solid integrity to their characters while wrapped up in flawless costumes, we’re left without any idea of who they actually are — there’s no time for that. With all energy invested in getting the film’s timing right, Tenet’s character development becomes token at best, reducing what could have been complex beings into well-worn tropes: the battle-worn soldier, the trusty sidekick, the mysteeeerious woman.”
Matt Purslow – IGN
“This also means Tenet struggles when it comes to characterisation. Like much of his back catalogue, Nolan draws Tenet’s characters in broad strokes. They’re pieces in a plot-focussed puzzle more than fully-realised people.”
In summary, Tenet might be, well…the most Christopher Nolan movie ever? All of his strengths and weaknesses as a filmmaker seem to have gone into the making of this film, which is summed up perfectly in this tweet:
You have to respect what he’s pulled off: A filmmaker with the power to pull of a huge-budget original script without a single bit of his vision being compromised. It might not all work flawlessly, but, man, what an exhilarating ride watching him attempt to pull it off. In the end, it’s just as this fan says: Nolan on his worst day is still better than a majority of filmmakers out there.
Tenet is in theaters on Thursday, September 3rd. Early access screenings will hit select theaters on August 31st.