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TENET’s Mixed Reviews Say It’s a Very Christopher Nolan Film

Christopher Nolan’s Tenet was supposed to be this summer’s big blockbuster. Now the industry is hoping it can “save” movie theaters. We’re not sure if that’s even possible in the U.S. It almost certainly won’t be safe to see it in theaters next month. (Seriously, experts say do not go to the theater.) We know we’re not risking our health to see it anytime soon. And that was true before the first mixed reviews from critics came out. They range from scathing to glowing. While some loved its time-bending elements, others found the movie’s physics-defying component distracting and muddled.

But one thing they all seem to agree on is that Christopher Nolan has made a very Christopher Nolan film.

Variety‘s Guy Lodge says the “big, brashly beautiful” film is at its best when it feels most like the grandest James Bond movie ever made.

“The sheer meticulousness of Nolan’s grand-canvas action aesthetic is enthralling, as if to compensate for the stray loose threads and teasing paradoxes of his screenplay — or perhaps simply to underline that they don’t matter all that much. “Tenet” is no holy grail, but for all its stern, solemn posing, it’s dizzy, expensive, bang-up entertainment of both the old and new school. Right now, as it belatedly crashes a dormant global release calendar, it seems something of a time inversion in itself.”

Catherine Shoard of The Guardian doesn’t think the movie will be worth staying up late to watch on TV in five years, let alone worth risking your life to see in a theater now.

“You exit the cinema a little less energized 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.”

John David Washington glares in Tenet.Warner Bros. Pictures

IGN‘s Matt Purslow mostly positive review calls the movie “another thrilling entry” in Christopher Nolan’s canon, but says its time-bending element doesn’t live up to its promise.

“But while Tenet frequently has (very serious) fun with its ideas, the time concept sometimes feels like it’s working more in service of creating exciting visual spectacle than the story itself. It’s not as neat as Inception’s multi-layered dreams or Dunkirk’s triple timeline; that one character says “Don’t try to understand it” almost feels an admission of the film’s struggle to clearly communicate its premise. Like with many films that explore time, it’s difficult to fully make sense of how it all works.”

It would be an understatement to say Mike McCahill at IndieWire was disappointed with the film, which he says is a dull effort from the director that doesn’t invite a second viewing.

“And what kind of picture is it? Big, certainly: IMAX-scaled, and a hefty 150 minutes even after a visibly ruthless edit. It’s clever, too — yes, the palindromic title has some narrative correlation — albeit in an exhausting, rather joyless way. As second comings go, Tenet is like witnessing a Sermon on the Mount preached by a savior who speaks exclusively in dour, drawn-out riddles. Any awe is flattened by follow-up questions.”

A man dressed in a black suit with white shirt stands in front of a broken glass mirrorWarner Bros. Pictures

Jason Gorber of /Film mostly enjoyed the flawed Tenet, but how much you will might depend on how much you like the director’s particular type of fare.

“In the end, Tenet feels like the most Nolan-y of Nolan’s own films, amping the many quirks of this remarkable filmmaker’s visual, aural and temporal fetishes up to 11. The result is messily entertaining, a film that feels both boisterous and bloated in equal measure. The drive of Nolan and his collaborators is to craft something that acts simultaneously as an escapist thrill and a deeper rumination on our choices and sacrifices, and how even the most small of circumstances can lead to events outside of our control. There’s a desire to entertain and engage audiences, not through the pre-established conventions of franchise lore that drives most blockbusters, but through a spark of originality that draws from past works but fiercely attempts to carve its own niche. This is to be lauded, even if the end result feels very loud and needlessly dense.”

In his glowing review for The Telegraph, Robbie Collin says the movies more confusing elements are a big reason why the film is so much fun.

“Feeling your heart and brain race to keep up is a significant part of the fun here, and in that unique and unmistakable Nolan-esque way, there is a series of exhilarating mental snaps whenever the two temporal perspectives intermesh, like the teeth on opposite sides of a zip. As for the parts you won’t and can’t, appreciate first time around – well, rewatching is always an option. If Tenet does revive the British box office, as cinemas are praying it will, that will be down in no small part to the fact you have to see it at least three times to be sure you understood it.”

TENET's Mixed Reviews Say its a Very Christopher Nolan Film_1Warner Bros. Pictures

Empire‘s Alex Godfrey thinks fans of Nolan’s biggest spectacles will enjoy a film he describes as James Bond “without the baggage.”

“….Tenet once again proves Nolan’s undying commitment to big-screen thrills and spills. There’s a lot riding on this film, to resurrect cinema, to wrench people away from their televisions, facemasks and all. It may well do the trick: if you’re after a big old explosive Nolan braingasm, that is exactly what you’re going to get, shot on old-fashioned film too (as the end credits proudly state). By the time it’s done, you might not know what the hell’s gone on, but it is exciting nevertheless. It is ferociously entertaining.”

Nicholas Barber of The Wrap appreciates the film’s “go-for-broke ambition,” but after one viewing isn’t sold.

“It may echo the cleverness of Rian Johnson’s Looper and Shane Carruth’s Primer in its dizzying disregard for linear chronology, but the plotting is muddled rather than complex, with less to say about the flow of time than Interstellar or Memento. In the end, Tenet isn’t one of Nolan’s most satisfying films. But after I’ve seen it four or five more times, maybe I’ll change my mind.”

We’d say we can’t wait to find out ourselves, but we can. And will.

Tenet comes to international theaters on August 26, an d U.S. theaters on September 3. Maybe.

Featured Image: Warner Bros. Pictures