Stickpit’s review published on Letterboxd:
There’s a question that’s been plaguing me for months now. Am I starting to... like Nolan? I mean, I was first in the cinema for this, on superscreen, mid-centre row, hell, I even cancelled a camping trip just to see it day one. I risked Corona for you, Nolan! Sure, I was also desperate for another cinema release to Discourse™ about, but if that doesn’t signify at least a little affection for the guy I don’t know what does. Either that or Zodiac obsession.
I really started to worry about this after rewatching The Dark Knight Rises the other week. I kind of love it? In how utterly fucking dumb it is. And it’s trying so hard to be smart! Like a little chimp trying to impress you. Adorable. And it’s not like Nolan’s the bottom of the barrel as far as mainstream directors go either. He’s actually really good at feigning the appearance of a smart film, what with all the mindblow-science-documentary ass music joining every austerely lit scene like a silent epic. It’s a trick even I’m not immune to sometimes. And I’ve even heard his films play much better in the cinema!
. . .
It’s safe to say my worries have been put to rest. Let’s start with the positives.
• Washington might be Nolan’s first semi-likeable protagonist
• Far better production and costume design than any of his previous films. THE COLOUR YELLOW! In a NOLAN FILM! Blimey!
• Elizabeth Debicki is 6 foot 3 and she wears nothing but a blouse and panties for the entire third act of the film. She opens a wine bottle with the inside of her shirt and you can see her tummy beneath it. She’s really tall.
• This is the loudest movie I have ever seen. For me, that’s a positive. It reaches harsh noise levels at points. I thought people were exaggerating about the bad sound mixing, but no, it was TERRIBLE. And that’s coming from me! The first scene of the film is completely INCOMPREHENSIBLE. Watch this win the Oscar for best Sound Editing.
• Nolan’s step-in composer, thankfully, is WAY better than Hack Zimmer. The score no longer sounds like an insurance commercial.
• He also actually bothered to hire an action choreographer this time round. Doesn’t this guy bill himself as an action director? The fuck happened the first 10 times?
• This might be Nolan’s first plot to be legitimately complicated. This is partly the fault of him being terrible at explaining things (IRONIC CONSIDERING THAT’S ALL HE EVER DOES), but I have to give credit where credit is due, it feels like he actually came up with some ideas of his own this time. Like, about the thermodynamics of reverse entropy (even though I’m sure that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny). If a mastermind like me has trouble following along I have no fucking clue what the guys that found Inception confusing will make of it. Invest all your stock in Tenet Ending Expained videos NOW.
• I like Pattinson’s ending.
• I like Debicki’s ending.
That’s a surprisingly long list, isn’t it? So what went wrong? Let’s start with Debicki. Did you know she’s 6 foot 3?
The problem with Tenet is that the first half of the film is devoted entirely to avoiding the concept of the film. Instead, we’re treated to an hour and a half of Washington finding out about the concept of the film in a very long and very generic spy movie sequence. This isn’t inherently a bad thing, you get to sprinkle in some mystery, some intrigue, and a nice little rising tension for your story structure. But this is Nolan we’re talking about
Enter Debicki! She is tall. She’s also an abused housewife. We know this because as soon as The Protagonist meets her she explains to him that she is an abused housewife. As they do. Being an abused housewife is her only character trait, by the way. Besides being a mother, of course. And a damsel in distress. And a body to inflict violence onto. Gee, it’s no wonder Nolan tries so hard to evoke Bond here! That might be the only other franchise with a worse track record of female representation than him! Keep it up king, you’ll get there one day.
Honestly, name a more dread-inducing sentence than “Christopher Nolan tackling the subject of domestic abuse”. Good lord. Master of human emotions Christopher Nolan. Wanna know who the abuser is? That’s right, Nolan himself! Just kidding, it's The Antagonist. That’s not his actual name, but it might as well be. His character trait is that he’s evil. We know this because he's Russian. What’s his evil plan you ask? After all, this is Nolan, beacon of intelligence, master of the villain, he must have something clever up his sleeve!
His plan is to destroy the world.
Take a moment to breathe in and process that.
NOLAAANNNN, YOU CAN FLASH ALL YOUR PLOT-HOLE RIDDEN THEORETICAL PHYSICS BULLSHIT YOU WANT, I’m still not going to think you’re clever if you write me a villain that literally wants to end life as we know it for NO REASON!!! He’s not an anti-natalist. He’s not doing it for the cause. As far as I’m aware he’s just a dick.
AND HE’S THE FOCUS OF THE FIRST TWO HOURS OF THE MOVIE!
When the film gets round to actually utilising its core idea, it gets better. It also gets really confusing. Nolan tries to use a diagram at one point, bless him, but that just makes it more confusing. And then you throw cross-cutting into the mix. Time is moving forwards and backwards, there’s no sense of space to it all and it‘s drenched in the aesthetic of a Middle East Modern Warfare FPS, because of course it is. There are some cool explosions here and there, but good luck understanding what they’re even there to do.
The ending is actually kinda good? Debicki is finally given some agency (and character-driven reincorporation! Somebody’s been studying his big boy screenwriting book!), Pattinson is given the best scene of the film and Nolan finishes it off with one last time travel twist, because he’s a nonce and he fucks children. Christopher Nolan is a serial offending pedophile. Don’t let him near your kids. He killed my wife, and he’ll kill yours, too.
I give this film a 6 foot 3/10