Tenet has been a hot topic of discussion over the last year, not only because the film from director Christopher Nolan looked like a highly ambitious and mind-boggling mystery of time and space, but because it was on the bleeding edge of the movement back to theaters after the coronavirus pandemic rightly closed them down during the spring and summer.
Now the reviews are out and critics are weighing in on what some call "the most Christopher Nolan-y movie of all time." No film is worth putting fans' health in danger, so the first reviews come from critics in countries that have had a more successful pandemic response than the U.S. — the latter getting the film after most international territories.
But is it worth seeing whenever fans are able to safely do so? Let's leave that to the critics, who may have some doubts about Nolan's ultra-heady spectacle, but ultimately enjoy the thrilling ride. Here's what they have to say:
Variety's Guy Lodge leads the pack with his praise, writing that the film is a "big, brashly beautiful, grandiosely enjoyable" and "made-for-Imax" spectacle that should be a treat for those able to see it on the big screen. A "spy thriller with expanded science-fiction parameters," Tenet is actually surprisingly comprehensible despite its time-inversion hook. With a small about of fun-poking, the film is still straightforward Nolan: practical, smart, and a little cold. Things get explained, hints are dropped, plots are dense, and setpieces are stunning. Will these aspects convert new folks to the cult of Nolan? Maybe not, but Lodge sees the film as "dizzy, expensive, bang-up entertainment of both the old and new school."
Jessica Kiang's New York Times review also looks at the Nolan film postively, if in a more mixed light, as an example of the "entertainingly inane glory" that moviegoers used to take for granted pre-pandemic. Sure, that might sound like faint praise, but the idea that a Nolan film "dazzles the senses, but it does not move the heart" is nothing new. Rather, Kiang notes that the director continues to "blow stuff up good" and bring better action visuals than deep ideas — though, hey, "the film is undeniably enjoyable."
Jason Gorber writes at Slashfilm that Tenet is "the most Christopher Nolan-y movie of all time." That means his hang-ups and his expertise are present in equal measure, with the latter perhaps winning out to make the film "a glorious attempt at giving us a meal that’s both sweet and savoury." The movie's timey-wimey twists, high-intensity visuals, and bold sounds are turned "up to 11," giving fans a film that's probably worth more as spectacle than as a true puzzle worth examining.
Alex Godfrey's review at Empire gives the film four stars, calling Tenet "Christopher Nolan’s blammiest film yet. BLAM!" Godfrey is not alone when comparing the film to James Bond, as many point out the plot's 007 feel, but star John David Washington (and the rest of the star-studded cast) are only described as "immensely watchable." The real star here is the time-inverting setpieces, which are "ferociously entertaining" and prove "Nolan’s undying commitment to big-screen thrills and spills," even if, as Godfrey writes, fans "might not know what the hell's gone on."
Indiewire's Mike McCahill gives a voice of dissent in his review, not necessarily disagreeing on previous points, but noting that the film contains "zero levity" and is Nolan simply bringing "dead ideas back to life." And that cast, which plays second banana to Nolan's action spectacles? "Nolan deploys his actors like spokespeople, appointed to field and deflect queries from his client base," McCahill writes. While the viewer's mind might be scrambled, the film's too "sullen and unyielding" to be much fun.
Tenet opens in international markets on Aug. 26, then in the U.S. on Sept. 3.