‘Tenet’ Divides Critics: Nolan’s Latest Called a ‘Monumental Spectacle’ and ‘Head-Scratching’ Dud

"Tenet" is already shaping up to be the most polarizing movie of Christopher Nolan's career.
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The review embargo for Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” has lifted, bringing with it an onslaught of first reviews that already make the film one of the director’s most polarizing offerings to date. Nolan is coming off one of the most acclaimed films of his career, the World War II survival thriller “Dunkirk.” That project scored Nolan his first Oscar nomination for Best Director, and now he’s back with what he’s called his most ambitious film ever. “Tenet” is an over-$200 million original espionage epic starring John David Washington and Robert Pattinson as agents tasked with using time inversion to prevent World War III.

IndieWire’s review from critic Mike McCahill criticizes Nolan’s latest as a “humorless disappointment” in which the director “is more caught up in his own machinations than ever before.” The Wrap critic Nicholas Barber was similarly let down by “Tenet,” calling it a “head-scratching James Bond homage.” Barber adds, “There is enjoyably puzzling fun to be had along the way, but ‘Tenet’ may have you pleading for an aspirin and a long lie-down.” The review calls the chemistry between the “swaggering Washington and the smirking Pattinson” a high point of the film.

In a two-star review out of five for The Guardian, critic Catherine Shoard calls “Tenet” a “palindromic dud” with a “rote” plot that’s “not a movie worth braving a trip to the big screen to see, no matter how safe it is.”

“‘Tenet’s’ real engine is its action sequences, in particular one involving a cargo plane and another multi-car chase,” Shoard adds. “They’re good; they have to be. As the eagle-eyed have pointed out, Tenet is a palindrome, which means it’s possible you’ll see some of the same scenes twice. Yet, for all the nifty bits of reverse chronology, there’s little that lingers in the imagination in the same way as ‘Inception’ or even ‘Interstellar’s’ showcase bendy business.”

More positive “Tenet” reviews are found in Variety, where Guy Lodge calls the movie “grandly entertaining” and a “time-slipping spectacle,” and Empire magazine, which gives “Tenet” four stars out of five and praises it as “big, bold, baffling, and bonkers.” Total Film critic Jordan Barley also gives “Tenet” a perfect grade, writing, “A monumental big-screen spectacle, ‘Tenet’ is a film that perfectly exemplifies what makes the cinema experience – in all its heart-stopping grandeur – quite so special.”

“Tenet” also earned a Critic’s Pick designation from The New York Times. Critic Jessica Kiang writes the film “dazzles the senses” and praises Washington for acting to perfection. The Hollywood Reporter is more mixed, writing, “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.”

In a separate review at BBC Culture, Nicholas Barber gives “Tenet” three stars out of five, writing, “The good news is that it is so sprawling, so epic, so crammed with exotic locations, snazzy costumes, shoot-outs and explosions that you get six months’ worth of big-screen entertainment in two and a half hours.”

Warner Bros. begins “Tenet’s” global rollout on August 26, followed by its U.S. debut in theaters September 3.

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