The ‘Tenet’ reviews are finally out: visually stunning & a nonsensical plot

Trumps Participate in the signing of a Proclamation on the 100th Anniversary of the Ratification of the 19th Amendment

Before the pandemic happened, I was looking forward to seeing Tenet in a theater. I won’t see it in the theater now, but it is finally being released in September, if some movie theaters open up. Ahead of the September 3rd release, the final trailer has come out and it is… well, just watch it. I think it probably gives up more of the plot, but since it’s Christopher Nolan, people are obviously still confused.

Yeah, I still don’t know. Elizabeth Debicki’s character looks like a femme fatale honestly – I bet she ends up double-crossing John David Washington’s character in some kind of horrendous way in the future-present time-bend. So what are reviewers saying now that they’ve gotten their first look at the film? Rotten Tomatoes has Tenet’s score at 80% fresh as of this writing, but the reviews aren’t all breathlessly positive.

Some assorted reviews:

The New York Times says it’s visually stunning, well-edited and obviously quite good if you don’t worry about the absurd plot too much. The Times makes special mention of Robert Pattinson being great in his role and that John David is basically Nolan’s impossibly-handsome version of James Bond (time-bendy James Bond). This is echoed in other reviews as well, and it reminded me of something Quentin Tarantino said about Nolan’s Dunkirk (and I’m paraphrasing): Nolan decided to do a WWII film because he figured out a way to make it authentic to his style. I feel like Nolan wanted to make a James Bond movie and he just figured out how to make it authentic to his style.

Deadline says much of the same thing, that the plot is confusing and it’s just better to go in and let the visuals and everything else sort of wash over you. Many critics (including Deadline) made special note of how terrible Elizabeth Debicki’s role is within the film, with Deadline describing her as “supremely elegant but, disappointingly, cast as a perpetual victim—she’s frequently restrained either physically, emotionally or both. She’s also subjected to a serious dose of mansplaining on more than one occasion.” Deadline loved Washington and Pattinson and it sounds like those two had a lot of chemistry and “their tentative bromance is arguably the warmest part of Tenet—it’s not a particularly emotional film, despite the fact that there is a potential apocalypse looming.”

Variety called it 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.” But there’s a lot of talk of how even though the film is about war and apocalypse and death on a massive scale, no one grieves or mourns or gets emotional about anything, really.

The Hollywood Reporter’s critic saw it twice but still felt “very confused about what is supposed to be going on and why. Even more baffling than the why is the how, the fictional physics of inversion.” THR also points out how poorly drawn Debicki’s character is: “it all too often feels like Kat’s function in the story is either to be endangered enough to push the plot forward or to be merely decorative.” Chilly, cerebral, but really as “brainy” as Nolan probably thought it was going to be.

Trumps Participate in the signing of a Proclamation on the 100th Anniversary of the Ratification of the 19th Amendment

Trumps Participate in the signing of a Proclamation on the 100th Anniversary of the Ratification of the 19th Amendment

Stills from ‘Tenet’.

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19 Responses to “The ‘Tenet’ reviews are finally out: visually stunning & a nonsensical plot”

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  1. bobslaw says:

    I’m more than a little bored of ‘serious auteur’ male directors making big budget spectacles about men doing manly things with a pretty woman thrown in for distraction or to increase the stakes.

    • Nievie says:

      agreed and adding Clemence Poesy in a white coat is also a weak effort. i’m sure the cinematography is great, but its another moody brookes brothers styled sausage fest…with shiny cars and stuff.

      seperate note….John David would make an awesome James Bond.

    • anon says:

      The women character’s in Nolan’s movies only service one purpose… to die to further the story or the male characters development. He is crap at making good roles for women.

    • Anne Call says:

      These movies are all about massive but ultimately boring special effects, women being decorative and guys (usually) being darkly heroic. Hard pass.

  2. Lila says:

    I love Christopher Nolan. The way he ties up loose ends is incredibly satisfying. But I’ve got no desire to go to a theater to watch this. It’s not going to be a satisfying experience if I spend the entire time wondering if anyone in there is infected.

    • Anname says:

      Cinemark is renting out theaters for $149 (private watch parties) for up to 20 guests.
      We have a total of 6 in our group. I’m happy to pay $25 each and not have to freak out about an unmasked guy chomping on his popcorn 10 ft away from me!

      • anon says:

        Wow, I rented out my local one screen theater for me and my husbands birthday 12 years ago and it cost 1,000. We were not capped at 20 people though obviously.

      • Lila says:

        Ohhhh that sounds awesome!

  3. Caitrin says:

    I love the spectacle of Nolan’s films, but one of my biggest critiques has always been that he struggles with female characters, from Inception to, well, the entire Dark Knight trilogy.

  4. Eliza says:

    A Nolan movie where women are used as beautiful plot devises? Never.

    I mean I think he gets so caught up in making something beautiful and new and cerebral he thinks the plot shouldn’t be complete. Purposefully missing information to make it more difficult to the audience. Each film it gets thinner. I haven’t seen it, its just what I’ve noticed.

    I think he’d benefit from teaming with someone who’s cerebral but story driven. Fight and argue. He’s suffering from ‘yes men syndrom”. He could be so much more than “beautiful but plotless”

    • Deering24 says:

      He needs someone who can give heart to his characters—or at least make them interesting outside their endless gameplaying and mind games. Too often, his characters are memorable because of great performances by the actors, (Jackman in The Prestige; Robin Williams in Insomnia) not because they have real depth.

  5. Stacy Dresden says:

    Love Pattinson and Washington. Definitely going to watch it at some point

  6. Scotchy says:

    I just came on to chime in with what everyone else is saying. Nolan cannot write a female character to save his life. Recently did a re watch of Momento and needless to say time shifting is his troupe as is writing piss poor female characters that are there solely to prop up the men in the film. I am giving Nolan a hard pass.I am just so tired of bro films. Even the beauty of John David Washington won’t get me onboard.

  7. Sinéad says:

    Why is the lighting so bad though? It seems like all the actors faces are half in the shade all the time. Is it just my screen or do other people just not mind as much?

  8. msd says:

    Debicki deserves better. And I’m iffy about Washington, honestly, who needs a strong hand and can come off as flat on screen.

    I like some of Nolan‘s films – and I appreciate he’s at least trying to be more diverse – but, even though it’s already out at cinemas in my country and Covid cases are very low, I’m finding it hard to summon much enthusiasm right now.

    I want movies to succeed and I don’t want streaming to kill cinemas but I wonder if it will actually make much of a profit? It needs to do big business as it cost so much to make.

  9. CecilN says:

    I saw it yesterday in 4DX. It’s equal parts a high concept spectacle with interesting imagery as always, and a mix and match essay about different theories on time.

    Personally, I was bored watching it even though I have a PhD and I’m an action / scifi movie fan. At some point you sort of get tired of Nolan looking down on you while looking at his own complex mind and art.

    Everything’s at the expense of the storytelling. I just remember JWD’s vacant line delivery, bloated with expositional jargon about physics or some meta-explanation of the plot, and it’s strange watching everyone’s stilted interpretations in a “let’s prevent WW3” film. Everything’s cold and boring in this film. I think I had an out of body experience towards the final act (you know the big finale for any action movie that’s supposedly filled with tension), tossed around in the 4DX roller coaster seat, just waiting for the film to end, not just bored because I had no idea what was going on but I just didn’t care anymore because Nolan took out all the tension and enjoyment of the genre. At least I hope he got off on it though; it’s an interesting film concept with interesting visuals but that’s about it.

    I’m missing his Inception days where he actually balanced high concept and storytelling. I think he got lost in his own self importance around Interstellar and forgot about storytelling and got lost making rambling art theses with A-listers and explosions.

  10. robin says:

    Didn’t expect much from the trailer alone. Inception looked really cool but the story had so many holes the more you thought about it…

  11. Deering24 says:

    Nolan is a strange, often exasperating case as a moviemaker. He knows the fundamentals—character development, smart dialogue, interesting premises, terrific visuals, and intelligent plotting. But it seems like he’s afraid he’ll lose audience attention if he doesn’t have a hundred twists every nano-second—or a plot so complicated no one can make sense of it. And for all the flash, his movies (except for Memento) fundamentally lack the heart that would make them truly memorable. The Prestige was an ultimately flat, strangely affectless movie about obsession (I wanted everyone in that movie to cool out and take up gardening or something. :)) And I would rather have played Inception than watched it. It sounds like he’s heading into Robert Zemeckis territory, where one element of the movie starts superseding everything else. (In Zemeckis’s case, it is FX; in Nolan’s, plot gamesplaying.)