Christopher Nolan's Tenet Is 'Ferociously Entertaining' But Lacks 'a Certain Humanity'

Christopher Nolan's Tenet opens internationally on August 26 and on September 3 in the U.S.

John David Washington and Robert Pattinson in Tenet. Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures

Christopher Nolan's Tenet is opening internationally and in the U.S. to mixed reviews, despite expectations the film could save the expectations of a blockbuster summer at the box office for Hollywood.

The highly-anticipated film, starring John David Washington and Robert Pattinson, centers on The Protagonist (Washington), who must find a way to stop Kenneth Branagh's Sator from starting World War III through time-bending moves.

While the film calls back to Nolan's previous hits such as Memento and Inception, early reviews of the film have expressed mixed thoughts and feelings about the film, one that was pushed back several times in light of the coronavirus pandemic only to be pushed into theaters as a potential gamble to save multiplexes.

Empire's review of the film likens it to "Bond without the baggage," as written by critic Alex Godfrey. The film is "a globetrotting espionage extravaganza that does everything 007 does but without having to lean into the heritage, or indeed the clichés."

"Nolan has made his own Bond film here, borrowing everything he likes about it, binning everything he doesn’t, then Nolaning it all up," Godfrey writes. "By the time it’s done, you might not know what the hell’s gone on, but it is exciting nevertheless. It is ferociously entertaining."

The Hollywood Reporter's Leslie Felperin writes, "Tenet makes you feel floaty, mesmerized and, to an extent, soothed by its spectacle – but also so cloudy in the head that the only option is to relax and let it blow your mind around like a balloon, buffeted by seaside breezes and hot air."

Felperin concludes, "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."

Despite the positive reviews, other critics were not as taken with Tenet.

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Catherine Shoard of The Guardian gave Nolan's film two stars, writing, "Tenet is not a movie it's worth the nervous braving a trip to the big screen to see, no matter how safe it is."

"I’m not even sure that, in five years’ time, it’d be worth staying up to catch on telly," Shoard writes. "To say so is sad, perhaps heretical. But for audiences to abandon their living rooms in the long term, the first carrot had better not leave a bad taste."

Despite her thoughts on the plot, Shoard did have positive thoughts on Pattinson, who plays Neil, a fixer. "Pattinson is never less than watchable. And his affectations can be a welcome distraction."

Jessica Kiang, a critic for The New York Times, acknowledges, "Tenet dazzles the senses, but it does not move the heart — a criticism common to all of Nolan’s original films."

"Indeed, take away the time-bending gimmick, and Tenet is a series of timidly generic set pieces: heists, car chases, mom disposals and more heists," Kiang writes.

She added the film seems "the kind of hugely expensive, blissfully empty spectacle it is difficult to imagine getting made in the near-to-medium future, now a fascinating artifact of a lovably clueless civilization unaware of the disaster lurking around the corner."

For moviegoers eager to see Nolan’s latest film, tickets are on sale for sneak previews that begin on Monday, August 31 and for the wider release on September 3 in the U.S.

To be able to see the film, theaters have agreed to follow local laws regarding social distancing amid the coronavirus pandemic, which include requiring a face mask anywhere inside a theater with the exception of when moviegoers are enjoying concessions, according to Indiewire.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues, numbers of confirmed cases have risen in parts of the U.S., particularly in Los Angeles County where confirmed cases are at 231,695, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

The second-largest number of cases can be found in Miami-Dade County in Florida, where confirmed cases are at 151,986.

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