Joshua Rivera, writing for The Verge, has the best review of Tenet I’ve read.
That’s perhaps the biggest disappointment of Tenet: it wants to be an unusually clever spy film, but Nolan isn’t terribly invested in the fun of spy movies. You know: cool outfits, flashy gear, people pushed to their absolute limit and managing to wear it incredibly well. And because the mechanics of the film’s plot require a lot of explanation just to follow what people are doing in a scene, it’s very easy to miss why they’re doing it. This is a shame because the reason for all this time-warping and subterfuge is actually compelling as hell!
Just so we’re clear: I am pretty good at watching movies. I’ve put in my 10,000 hours, per Malcolm Gladwell’s absolutely airtight metrics, and that makes me an expert. Yet, I was still confused by the time the credits rolled. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. One of the beautiful things about movies is how they can immerse us in stories that are bigger than us that defy easy comprehension. What unmoors me is the nature of my confusion.
Tenet is a film that explicitly encourages you to feel a thing and not think about it, but it doesn’t offer any emotional anchors. It’s a disorientation that comes when you don’t feel you’re in the hands of someone with complete control over the narrative. You might be able to call some twists before they happen, but even if you do, it’s no more satisfying than a coin toss. Sure, you may have been right. But unless you had money on it, does it matter?
Tenet is an absolute mess of a movie that stumbles doing all of the things I like about Christopher Nolan films. Directors are allowed missteps, obviously — this one is even pretty humanizing — but the whole situation is complicated by the circumstances surrounding the film’s release.
Seriously, all I wanted was a cool spy flick and I got this crap. Sure, it looks beautiful but it makes not a lick of sense. Inception is complicated and probably needs repeated viewings to understand it, but there is a narrative flow. Tenet has none of that and so it makes no sense. I’ve read complete “This is what happens in Tenet” pieces and I still can’t follow the story. There are beats that are never explained in the story. I’m sure there are James Bond movies where the plot loses all connection to reality, but that might even be the point here.
I love Inception. Tenet… I don’t love and I’m not even sure I like.