Tenet: Reviews Are In–Nolan’s Epic Spectacle Seen by U.K. Critics


Tenet- Publicity still 6-H 2020
Warner Bros. Pictures

Warner did not show domestic (i.e. U.S.) critics Chris Nolan’s Tenet, which opens today in several foreign markets.

Thus, until we see and review the picture, here are some capsules from reviews written by mostly U.K. critics.

Hollywood Reporter

As befits a blockbuster about nothing less than a few people trying to save the world from “something worse” than Armageddon, there is a lot riding on Tenet succeeding with its own set of missions. Mission one: get released in the first place so it can start recouping what must have been a massive production budget. Next mission: save theaters and exhibition chains on the brink of bankruptcy, and all the workers that depend on them. In fact, while it’s at it, the film may need to save the very future of venue-based cinema, those hallowed gathering places for “collective human engagement,” to quote its writer-director Christopher Nolan.

The Independent

“It’s the rare action film where the characters don’t just say the world will end if they fail in their mission — you feel it, too. Ludwig Göransson (stepping into the shoes of Nolan’s usual collaborator, Hans Zimmer) creates a score built of low, anxious vibrations that pulsate through even the most incidental of scenes. Most of the colors we see are familiar to Nolan’s worlds — yellow tones make everything feel like it’s been lightly coated in toxic smog — though one particular, showstopping scene is bathed in hellish reds and blues. The action scenes, all carefully shaped around the idea of ‘inverted time,’ are coordinated to look like some kind of strange, modernist ballet.”

The Guardian:

Tenet’s real engine is its action sequences, in particular one involving a cargo plane and another multi-car chase,” agrees the Guardian’s critic, although with reservations. “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.”

Screen International

“It’s an undeniable joy to return to the big screen with a picture which has been shot and edited on film, which moves between shiny locations and adroitly-executed set pieces so effortlessly and so expensively.  “It’s also obvious that Nolan, who wrote, directed and co-produced with his partner Emma Thomas and his regular team of collaborators knows precisely what’s going on here, after all he’s spent years constructing his own Matrix. It’s a hopelessly convoluted watch, though, and Warners must be hoping for the kind of repeat viewing which Nolan fans are only too happy to indulge. Feeling it, is, indeed, the best option: although staying in sync with a film with such a disrupted and repeatedly altered internal logic proves to be quite a challenge.”


That frustration is shared by IndieWire critic, who asks, “What kind of picture is Tenet? 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.”


“No doubt some big brains will be fine with all of this — and will be able to follow the plot — but for the rest of us, Tenet is often a baffling, bewildering ride. Does it matter? Kind of,” writes Empire, “It’s hard to completely invest in things that go completely over your head. The broad strokes are there, and it’s consistently compelling, but it’s a little taxing. No doubt it all makes sense on Nolan’s hard drive, but it’s difficult to emotionally engage with it all.”


Perhaps Tenet should be considered an achievement rather than an accomplishment, given the incomplete nature of its success. For something that asks the audience to feel rather than understand, it’s more than a little ironic that Tenet turns out to be a movie that’s more admirable than lovable. Perhaps that’s because Nolan is aiming for something different than the audience — or, at least, the critics — were anticipating, IGN critic suggests.

“In a world where blockbuster cinema is dominated by franchises and sequels, it serves as an accomplished demonstration of the pleasures of unconnected and non-serialized original storytelling. But while it does tread new ground, Tenet is the ‘safest’ film from Christopher Nolan in some years,” he writes. “Following two recent ambitious movies from the filmmaker, Tenet feels a little conservative, as if Nolan’s style is a franchise rather than a framework.”