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“Tenet” review: Nolan should go back in time and make a better movie


“Tenet” is a bad movie, and not just by its director Christopher Nolan’s (one of Hollywood’s most bankable directors) standards. It is genuinely, for the most part, unentertaining and sometimes a downright chore to sit through. The film follows an unnamed spy (played by John David Washington) as he must unravel and end a plot that could potentially cause World War III, an evil plan in which objects physically move backwards in time.

The less said about the plot of “Tenet,” the better. Not because it’s one of those movies that’s best seen going in blind, but because if I tried to explain what’s actually happening in this movie, this review would be the length of a short story.

Fans of Nolan know him for his layered, labyrinth-like stories, and it feels like he’s trying to outdo himself with “Tenet.” There were large chunks of this film where I had no idea what was going on and had to look it up on my phone in the theater. With the success of his films like “The Dark Knight” trilogy, “Inception” and “Interstellar,” Nolan solidified himself as one of the few, and certainly the best, directors to be able to fuse big-brain ideas and concepts with big-budget thrills and actions. With “Tenet,” Nolan seems to have taken the mythical level of creative freedom he has earned himself, and become lost in it.

There are probably answers to the many confusing plot points and moments in the film, but everything happening around them is so dull that it fails to create a mystery that I want to figure out. Look at “Inception,” an equally high-concept and convoluted film. What makes “Inception” work is that it creates investment in its actual story. It’s not the most emotional film (Nolan’s never are) but there are interesting, dynamic and hard hitting situations, whereas “Tenet” lacks this entirely and hangs everything on how cool its central concept is (which, I mean, things moving backwards in time isn’t that cool).

Outside of that, the film has some very glaring technical problems, which is strange for a movie of this size. The sound design is very lopsided, with the music and sound effects sometimes completely drowning out the dialogue. The score, composed by Ludwig Goransson, is also hit and miss. Droning and booming, oppressive and snazzy, it is constantly toeing the line between brilliant and headache inducing. 

The actors in the film seem like they’re all just going through the motions, except for Kenneth Branaugh, who seemed to be having the time of his life as the film’s schlocky Russian villain. It’s hard to blame them, though, as most of the lines in this film are so eye-rollingly bland, there probably isn’t any other way to say them convincingly. 

“Tenet” is another let down in a year of let downs. Nolan is undoubtedly one of the best directors working today, and his output has been ludicrously consistent. But “Tenet” feels like a total outlier, like a lazy imitation of better work. Certainly, any working artist can have a dud every now and then, but if you’re going to risk your health to see a movie, this one probably isn’t worth it.

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  • M

    mr williOct 14, 2021 at 1:05 pm

    This film was for the level of knowledge of ordinary people, but I enjoyed it as a film lover.

  • T

    Tyson A McLaneJan 27, 2021 at 2:36 pm

    And yet the majority of reviewers, and simpleton viewers disagree with this assessment. Tenet is a great movie.

    This guy is reviewing this as a “bad” movie just because he wants to be different, nothing of what he states in this review as being problems actually exist in the film. Reviewer should blow his brains out.

  • K

    Ken SJan 26, 2021 at 8:06 pm

    “There were large chunks of this film where I had no idea what was going on and had to look it up on my phone in the theater.”

    I hate reviews like this. Did it ever occur to you that the problem is with your mental ability to follow along, not with the movie? Everyone I know had no difficulty following what was happening. It has a 7.5 rating on IMDB, indicating that most folks liked it. Maybe instead or reviewing the movie . . . you should review your own ability to appreciate the movie.

  • D

    David ShereJan 26, 2021 at 4:16 am

    “Tenet” is quite possibly Nolan’s greatest film. High concept science fiction is not for everyone, and you have to invest a little bit of intelligence in the story to follow the plot. This film is unique is its treatment of time, and remarkably self consistent. Show me one other movie that deals as plausibly with the actual physics of time as this one. Go on, I’ll wait. There isn’t one. The great joy of this film is consciously tracking how the opposing events affect each other and realizing that everything adds up, every act in both directions is meticulously accounted for. It must have been a storyboarding nightmare. THAT is Nolan’s genius: He relentlessly and obsessively follows the premise through to its absolute uttermost conclusion. Nolan refuses to half-ass the payoff or compromise cause and effect within this universe in order to deliver a more easily digested, palatable plot. This story is tough to get your brain around, but it’s worth the extra effort.

    • B

      Barry BradleyJan 27, 2021 at 6:44 am

      Primer… which I also didn’t understand. On the other hand, how intelligent do I need to be to have the opinion that that the set pieces were bland and boring, the battle at the end looked like a big budget paint ball session. Tenet could be be most ‘intelligent’ film of all time, but a good action film that does not make.

      • D

        David ShereJan 30, 2021 at 6:30 am

        Perhaps you might find the “Fast & Furious” movies to be more to your liking, then. Leave the interesting films to those of us who have brains.

      • B

        Barry BradleyFeb 1, 2021 at 12:09 pm

        Those aren’t our only options are they? I’m sure we can both do better, I would actually recommend Primer if you want to give your brain a workout and are interested in films that play with the concept of time. I would have enjoyed it too, ”If I only had a brain…”.

  • M

    MichaelJan 7, 2021 at 3:04 am

    Tenant was a scientifically-lacking cliche spy movie. A sexy secret agent, his alluring but questionable-allegiance fixer, Russian bad guy with a heart condition going to end the world, married to some damsel protecting her child.

    Except someone was on Wikipedia and saw a Feynman diagram and decided it looked like the central plot tool for the entire movie, by treating entire bodies, objects, works, universe like a single particle:antiparticle interaction, and attempting to create a universe where this is true, and somehow explain science which is known as if it’s science which is unknown. I’ve yet to read if there was a trio of physicists on this project like there were on Interstellar – Interstellar was a masterpiece and scientifically sound throughout.

    I’m a physicists, masters in university, so it’s not that it’s a “big brain movie” or you need to be more scientifically literate to appreciate it. Explaining what’s known in a way that’s wrong is worse than doing the honest thing and not explaining it at all. Battlestar Galactica never explained FTL drives, thus they’re okay. Haha

  • A

    ABCDec 30, 2020 at 12:31 am

    Should have watched the movie twice before writing the review..
    Maybe you didnt understand the is alright , not everyone can understand it
    keep watching cartoon shows…dont even try to watch next nolon film

  • G

    GodDec 27, 2020 at 2:51 pm

    I believe it is a great movie. If you understood ‘the matrix’ or ‘inception’ or ‘interstellar’ by watching ONLY once. You will be AMAZED after this movie. I will suggest YOU to watch it with subtitles. The movie is made amazingly, you have to focus to details. Everything is connected in this movie, I mean everything shown is interestingly interconnected. I enjoyed the movie, and IF YOU LOVE PHYSICS OR MATH YOU WILL TOO. DON’T MISS THE MOVIE.❤

  • J

    JoannaDec 22, 2020 at 8:31 am

    I also don’t like the movie Tenet, but I don’t like this review. First try to understand it, really watch the film from start to finish. That being said, I have watched this film about 5 times, and I still can’t fully understand every aspect. I’m not really a science based thinker which is why I struggled with the film. The acting was not so great, with the lines being stiff and the dialogue was barely audible which is shocking for that high of a budget film. It reminded me of a student film where they can’t adjust the audio right! I understand that Nolan was wanting to make a film more on the concept rather than a film with characters which I just see as his style. I never liked his films, but I always still watch it more to appreciate his work and his dedication towards his concept.

  • J

    JaesonDec 21, 2020 at 4:02 am

    I would highly recommend to ignore and report this stupid review. Tenet is extraordinary, only intelligent people can understand. When the reviewer said that he couldn’t explain the movie, that’s when I realize that this person just writes reviews and cannot understand the movie. I think you should only review movies like home alone and avengers. Tenet is really good, in terms of everything, The final 15-20 minutes are extraordinary. The acting are great. The bg score is great. This movie is equal to interstellar and inception. Nolan did a great job. I would say ,please dont review or comment on something you cant understand, try to understand it and then review it. Just remember this, all the stupid reviewers will in 10 years appreciate and admire Tenet. You’ll dont deserve a director like Nolan.

    • D

      DejanDec 24, 2020 at 4:26 am

      When it comes to Nolan’s latest movies, there’s always one
      thing in common: they’re at least an hour longer than they should be….
      Even though I liked Inception alot, one thing bothers me in the first place.
      With a slight change of what goes on after you get shot in your dream,
      film is just upgraded ripoff of 1984 movie called Dreamscape.
      Same is with Interstellar, story is dragging too long with no reason to,
      only to see very similar stuff we saw in 1997 movie Contact, with slight difference,
      Jodie traveled distant galaxies just to meet her late dad, and in Interstellar, dad traveled through
      black hole to end up in his young daughter’s bookshelf…..
      I didn’t like Tenet, film is riddled with inconsistencies, story line is full of
      holes that could have only been patched with relying on watcher’s belief
      that time doesn’t go linear after all, so OK, it will do somehow……

      • A

        ArggJan 29, 2021 at 6:28 pm

        LOL, thats really NOT the plot of Contact. Watch it again, she never physically travelled anywhere, and Dreamscape the same as Inception? give me a break (or were the characters in Inception psychic’s as well?). As for time not being linear in Tenet, it is, but it flows forwards or backwards depending on your viewpoint.

  • N

    NickDec 14, 2020 at 4:28 am

    This review is right in two respects. The sound was unbalanced and Brannagh was superb.

    The whole film was excellent. It needs to be watched carefully by an intelligent viewer. This reviewer was either not paying attention (e.g. looking at his phone) or it went over his head.

  • D

    DrewDec 13, 2020 at 11:19 pm

    I disagree with you review, I think TENET was Great and Sir Kenneth Branagh’s Acting was Just Perfect for an Antagonist
    In the Movie Batman Vs Superman, The Character Martha Kent Says “People Hate What they don’t understand”
    He may have made the Movie a bit Complex, go watch it again
    Most of us disagree with you review

  • N

    NeilDec 12, 2020 at 9:30 pm

    ‘Tenet’ is a library, not a theme park.
    It’s not ‘Mission Impossible’ or ‘John Wick’.
    It’s ‘The Matrix’ that doesn’t tell you what The Matrix is.

  • S

    StanislavskyDec 2, 2020 at 7:59 pm

    Whole heartedly agree with your review. Extremely disappointed with this latest film from Chris Nolan and I’m a big fan of his. The film is a train wreck from start to finish apparently two of the main stars of the film admitted post production that even they didn’t understand the film, if that’s the case then what chance have we got? Was good seeing a middle aged Robert Pattison in the film and as always Kenneth Branagh is excellent as the bad guy but even his brilliance can’t save a bad, bad film. The car chase and smash scenes are so loud I had to walk out of the movie as I had a motor vehicle accident recently and couldn’t stand the loud noises.
    This film is struggling at the box office to recoup its budget while there are not many big budget films out at present. Main competition from local cinema are re runs of old classics. Would not see it again.

  • B

    Basak LayicDec 2, 2020 at 5:58 am

    Great review!
    Everything I wanted to say about the movie but was never able to do it.
    As a script writer, it’s difficult for me to watch movies where characters speak only to advance the plot.
    And this movie was full of those moments. The dialogues were extremely dull and lack of character. The stakes were supposed to be high – WW3- but still he failed to make me care for any of the characters, and the world that he built.
    It felt like Nolan wrote this movie when he was in the dormitory smoking a joint with his friends “Dude imagine time go backwards dude!!1” Ugh
    At some point I was in favor of the world to blew the fuck up so this painful movie could end.
    Finally I fell asleep- so I don’t know anything about the end- I only know that it was a waste of time and money.

    Now I wrote all this, I feel better though. Much lighter. Huh.

    • D

      David ShereJan 30, 2021 at 6:52 am

      You’re a script writer? Tell me, what movies have you written? I’d like to go watch a few of them.

  • S

    Srijon MondalNov 17, 2020 at 11:14 am

    It is a classic Spy Film with a palindrome. If you understand Inception and have Good Scientific background, it’s highly probable that you will like Tenet. And if you get to know how the movie was shoot, you will absolutely like it.
    It’s not a movie with a simple plot with cool CGI. It’s certainly made for above-average people, People with a scientific background, or people who are nerds in science. The plot of this movie is deep and soo deep that people who have watched movies with spoon feed plot can’t even see the depth of the story. The Antagonist had to speak backwards in a Russian accent, if you don’t understand how hard it is, I can’t help you.

    • D

      DejanDec 24, 2020 at 4:06 am

      Very hard. Speak the line, then the sound editor plays it backwards……

    • K

      KamDec 27, 2020 at 8:33 pm

      So basically you’re saying that we should bring a catalogue with ourselves to the movies before watching the film? interesting that a seemingly entertaining movie should require so much paraphernalia! the problem is that Nolan’s fans (my past self) do not want to accept the fact the even a great director as Nolan may fall and make rubbish sush as Tenet and Dunkirk.

  • A

    AlexNov 4, 2020 at 1:43 pm

    You should watch the movie more than once since to me, you are one of those that think all movies must give you everything spoonfed by how you reviewed this movie. Don’t say it’s a let down.

    “I had no idea what was going on and had to look it up on my phone in the theater”

    This is why this movie isn’t for you, just rewatch the movie ffs don’t look at your damn phone in the middle of a movie in the theater, you will catch up on more details if you really try, but to me you just wanted another typical action movie and call it a day. TENET is actually a good movie, every single small detail is there of a reason. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea that’s for sure, but your review sounds so lazily made.


    Imagine looking at your friend dying invertedly and then saying goodbye to him because he is about to die, just for you to meet him a few years later? The protagonist was literally holding his tears at the end of the movie, tell me if that is NOT some insane acting. You wouldn’t even know how to react!

    Bad review dude..

  • A

    AmandaOct 29, 2020 at 12:37 pm

    This film really impressed me, but in my opinion, ‘Inception’ and ‘Interstellar’ turned out to be more emotional and exciting. Like many viewers, I lacked the disclosure of the characters of main heroes and at least some kind of interpersonal conflicts between them.

    As for the acting, I was incredibly pleased with Robert Pattinson – from film to film, he increasingly reveals his acting talent. In ‘Tenet’ he is amazingly organic and easily draws all the audience’s attention to himself, despite the fact that he isn’t the main character in the film. I hope he’ll be marked with some kind of film awards for the role of the second (and maybe the first) plan, because he is really good here. The main character turned out to be somehow nondescript against the background of Pattinson’s hero and even against the background of more minor characters.

    I recommend this movie for watching to all admirers of Christopher Nolan’s work, as well as those who are interested in unusual puzzle films with quirks, games with timelines and an atypical ending.

    Thanks for your review, it was interesting to read your opinion about ‘Tenet’!

  • J

    Jason KnoetzeSep 9, 2020 at 7:14 am

    I wholeheartedly disagree. Having only seen it once so far, and while there are most definitely parts I struggled to understand. I think it is well worth your time. While it is a mind-bender, it kept me on the edge of my seat. Thunderous sound can definitely drown out the dialogue, but I think for the most part it was done well. For me it was a refreshing twist on time travel movies and something different to what is out there.