nolan of palo alto’s review published on Letterboxd:
I want to preface this review by emphasizing that I love Christopher Nolan. He's foundational for so many of us as film lovers, myself included, and I think the majority of his films are fantastic and even though I don't like TENET I will always defend him.
I was both optimistic and worried for this rewatch. On one hand I knew what to expect this time and on the other hand I've been seeing so many memes and clips on the internet that inadvertently reminded me why this didn't work for me initially. Unfortunately, this was somehow worse the second time around. I think a lot of this had to do with not being in a cinema as well as watching it with the subtitles this time. While the sound mix didn't interfere with the dialogue as much, I was able to pay more attention to what the dialogue actually was and deary me Chris what are you doing man? I actually wish I could go back to the cinema experience of this film before I knew what so many of these lines were. Saying the world is going to end and everyone will die before Debicki jumps in randomly and goes "including my son" is a serious contender for top 10 worst lines of dialogue in any movie. There's a plethora of bad lines dispersed throughout but I'm not going to waste my time listing them off. This makes me want to be on the team of TENET being something to just vibe to because this is a story where the more you actually pay attention to it and break it down the more stupid it gets.
That being said, I still somehow can't quite vibe to this because pretty much everything else doesn't work for me. There is practically no characterization anywhere and I sadly don't like John David Washington in this even though I can't blame him too much given the script. For someone who is supposed to be this cool bad ass agent, he has zero charisma, which is tragic thinking about what genes he's got. I don't care about the age difference... I'd honestly love this movie way more if Denzel played 'The Protagonist' lol. Otherwise, this just feels like Nolan told the actors to act serious, say their lines, and then they went home without putting any nuance into their characters. Even a lot of the one-liners 'The Protagonist' gets are all pretty underwhelming and not funny. And the CASABLANCA ending lol... why is 'The Protagonist' crying instead of Neil?? I can sort of get behind it being because of the concept of inversion but why would that make me care? Neil just kind of walks away like peace out man. I'd maybe care if I got a sense these characters were close or had a tight bro relationship throughout the film but we get little to nothing. There's one shot of them dapping each other up in a truck and that's it. There's somehow more of a bond between Anakin and Obi-Wan in the prequels, which their lack of one has always been something that's bothered me over the years.
The cinematography, while at times very solid, is pretty disappointing. Unlike INCEPTION, another Nolan film set in several countries all over the world, the entirety of TENET looks exactly the same. Why set it in all these distinguishable places if you're going to make them all look exactly the same?? There just is no sense of place in this. The only two distinguishable settings are Mumbai and the one in the climax which looks like the most boring call of duty map of all time. As for everything else, the sound is still pretty bad because everything is too loud, which paired with the Bo Rap editing gives TENET zero contrast or tension. I watched Michael Bay's 6 UNDERGROUND recently and TENET actually reminded me of that. I don't mind this adrenaline fuelled filmmaking unless it feels earned or if I cared about the characters (Tony Scott is God). I think filmmakers should watch more Sergio Leone flicks and pay attention to what makes the sound and editing build to a big moment. I think in terms of contemporary filmmakers, Villeneuve and Refn both seem to understand this but here Nolan feels like he has more in common with Bayhem. Then again, I do think that at times Nolan delivers us the goods and reminds me why I love the pulse certain action scenes can have. The opening scene, the plane crash, and the car chase are all pretty good. The score slaps as well.
It should be obvious by now that this is without a doubt my least favourite film by Nolan. He is indulging a ton but not in a way that engages me. No characterization, no suspense, no variety, loud noises, bad performances, and choppy editing makes this incredibly underwhelming for me, especially when at moments Nolan reminds us why he's a lad. I might do a bit of a Nolan run to be honest though. I miss his films!