Patrick’s review published on Letterboxd:
Tenet is a fascinating mess of a movie. It somehow succeeds in being a grand spectacle and fails in its bigger ambitions. It stumbles and falls in being an engaging film as well as a puzzling observation on the concept of time. The film attempts to deconstruct how we perceive time. But Nolan does nothing with this deconstruction, he unfolds it using the structure of the film and leaves it be. This is where I have a problem with Christopher Nolan’s idea of being “complex”, similar to Inception, Nolan likes to play around with the names and words in the film to fit the films premise, for example, all the characters names in Inception fit into an acronym. This is just an example of what deconstruction is in Nolan’s films, he does it with this film using the structure, and it adds up to nothing. The films story is also (deliberately) hard to follow. It does not do this for any other reason other than to confuse the viewer. The films plot is simple enough to follow, but for no reason, Nolan decides to tell it in the most confusingly boring way possible. The time aspect is not what is frustrating about it to me, at the beginning of the film, Nolan practically tells the audience to not think about it, so the problem not the time travel but it’s how the story is told. It could be him playing with the structure of the film but in doing this, he completely forgoes any semblance of intrigue. It is not able enough in its ambitions to succeed, and not cohesive enough in its story to satisfyingly entertain, its a nearly worthless experience.
The story feels as if there is at least 45 minutes missing from the film, which explains its original 195 minute runtime (now cut down to 150 minutes). I would love to see the extended cut of this film, maybe there would be some decent character moments for me to latch onto. Wait I’m getting ahead of myself. The characters (unsurprisingly) are absolutely empty vessels for the movie to move forward, they are completely boring to watch when they aren’t fighting and are devoid of any personality whatsoever, making many of the interactions and exchanges between characters really awkward, uninteresting and unfunny (the attempts at humour are sparse but all out of place). If I’m being honest, the character interactions and the way they talk kind of reminded me of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace at a few points. As for performances, Each cast member (especially Robert Pattinson) is criminally under utilized.
Sadly, every scene (other than the action set pieces) is completely devoted to getting to the next action scene using tedious (you guessed it) exposition. But the problem here is the exposition is really hard to understand, not because what they’re saying is hard to comprehend, but the music and sound design (which are amazing by the way) are so overbearing that I can’t even make out what the characters are saying to each other half the time. But what I did get from the exposition, it’s that I did not care for what was being said, as it did not matter, because it’s only trying to get to the next action scene. Most of the action scenes, (with the exception of the last one) are all really well executed and engaging. I think the spectacle and fight sequences are absolutely stellar. Whenever the characters aren’t talking, the movie is actually pretty great. The action is definitely the highlight of the film, however, there’s a little asterisk right next to that, as I realized halfway through the film, that the premise (time going forwards and backwards at the same time) wasn’t really a premise at all, and it was more of a macguffin/gimmick (similar to 1917’s one take gimmick) that is only in place for action set pieces to look cool. It’s undeniable that the action paired with the premise make it much more stunning, especially as the overbearing sound design and music are all outstanding.
I’m going to end whatever this is with a quote from the film that stuck out to me, “don’t try to understand it, feel it”, this line stood out to me because I wasn’t trying to understand the film, (as Nolan tells you not to try to understand it at the beginning) but it was nearly impossible to feel it as there was almost no engagement with any of the pieces that are being put in place. It is a puzzle after all, aren’t most Nolan films? Anyway, I am glad to be back at the cinema again, even if this film was disappointing for me personally.