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From ‘enthralling’ to ‘dud,’ critics are mixed on Christopher Nolan’s ‘Tenet’

John David Washington, left, and Robert Pattinson in Christopher Nolan's "Tenet."
(Melinda Sue Gordon / Warner Bros. Pictures)

If you were relying on film critics to decide if Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” is worth a masked trip to the theater amid the COVID-19 pandemic, good luck.

Reviews of Nolan’s long-awaited time warp are finally in — and they are all over the place. Some have hailed “Tenet” as “grandly entertaining,” while others panned it as “a palindromic dud.” The Los Angeles Times took a more middling stance, simultaneously deeming the sci-fi thriller “energetically escapist” and “copious and confusing.”

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“‘Tenet’ has ambition, ingenuity and imagination aplenty. Yet it lacks a certain living spark,” Jonathan Romney writes for The Times. “Despite the occasional sharp line, Nolan never quite feels comfortable with humor, and his directing style is hardly what you’d call insouciant.

“‘Tenet’ is entertaining, but it isn’t exactly fun; Nolan may be a cinematic wizard, but here he’s working in the grandiose watch-this-building-disappear David Copperfield mode rather than showing the sly legerdemain that tends to make for grace in screen magic.”

Due Aug. 31 in select reopened theaters, Nolan’s latest entry follows John David Washington’s unnamed protagonist on a top-secret mission to prevent a World War III caused by dangerous technology of the future. The repeatedly delayed project also stars Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki and Kenneth Branagh.

Read what critics are saying about “Tenet” below.

The Guardian

“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,” writes Catherine Shoard. “I’m not even sure that, in five years’ time, it’d be worth staying up to catch on telly. 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.”

IndieWire

“What kind of picture is it? Big, certainly: IMAX-scaled, and a hefty 150 minutes even after a visibly ruthless edit,” writes Mike McCahill. “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.”

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Variety

“The sheer meticulousness of Nolan’s grand-canvas action aesthetic is enthralling, as if to compensate for the stray loose threads and teasing paradoxes of his screenplay — or perhaps simply to underline that they don’t matter all that much,” writes Guy Lodge. “‘Tenet’ is no holy grail, but for all its stern, solemn posing, it’s dizzy, expensive, bang-up entertainment of both the old and new school.”

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New York Times

”... the film is undeniably enjoyable, but its giddy grandiosity only serves to highlight the brittleness of its purported braininess,” writes Jessica Kiang. “Within the context of this self-created brand of brainiac entertainment, ‘Tenet’ meets all expectations, except the expectation that it will exceed them. Forgive the circularity of this argument: it’s a side effect of watching the defiantly circular ‘Tenet.’”

The Wrap

”... there is one solid reason why ‘Tenet’ could make a profit,” writes Nicholas Barber. “Even if not many people pay to see it, some of those people will pay to see it again and again and again in the hope that, eventually, they will be able to work out what on earth is going on.”

Warner Bros. dropped the first trailer for Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet,” an action-packed time warp starring “BlacKkKlansman” breakout John David Washington.

IGN

“It’s a classic Nolan film in almost every way — packed tight with lofty ideas, impeccable set-pieces, and pacy plotting — to the point that it’s practically a comfort watch rather than exciting new ground,” writes Matt Purslow. “That sense of familiarity does breed some minor contempt, but in a world of franchise blockbusters, it’s a welcome sight to see an original, ambitious idea on the big screen once more.”


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