Blake Van Poucke’s review published on Letterboxd:
Christopher Nolan has an eye for the illustrious and bombastic - he enjoys jaw-dropping visual set pieces and a tumultuous plot of mind-bending mystery- Tenet is Nolan at his most ambitious, with a massive scale pioneering new techniques and a unique narrative structure. On paper, it had the makings of something unbenounced and game-changing in the medium, and in some respects, it reaches those highs but in the process makes a mess of a character, plot, and meaning, as all are lost by the end of the film. The amount of time and work spent on this show in the final product, but it's a hollowed-out film that builds on aesthetics and barely remembers to tell a story.
First off, the dialogue needs to be discussed at length. The best comparison I can make is to George Lucas and his writing of the Star Wars prequels - again, an ambitious project where the director likely should've taken the pen out of his hand because he couldn't write dialogue. Nolan can expertly craft structure, unlike almost anyone in film history, but when it comes to writing character and dialogue, his shortcomings appear on the screen.
"I ordered hot sauce an hour ago."
Now, in a less imaginative vision or a lesser film, this line kicks ass and works as a sarcastic, bold line the main character would say, but when matched up with the tone of the entire film, it shows you just how confused they were writing these characters. John David Washington is a great actor and will have a great career. Still, in Tenet, he was essentially told to read every line as dull as possible, and the bland screenplay makes it virtually impossible to add some personality. He's an odd cross of all the famous spy-thriller protagonist you could think of, just lacking any suave or style. He doesn't even have a backstory, but we are intended to identify with this character. Thankfully, his physical prowess allows us to enjoy some intense JDW, but more immense stretches of the film are exposition and dialogue that's completely uninteresting.
The premise of the film is complicated and needs explanation, but the amount of exposition in this film is a sin. I'd say a third of the film is spent lecturing audiences on how it works and not being able to figure it out practically. The over-explanation takes away from the very best aspect of the film - the action.
As much as I dislike the script and characterization, the action set pieces are fucking dynamite. The opening work in the auditorium was the type of great rush that Nolan is masterful at, and this happens throughout the film. Whenever time is used narratively, we get impressive sequences - like in The Matrix-like highway scene - there are incredible visual moments born out of the reversal of individual shots. Jennifer Lame did a magnificent job with the editing and is a huge reason why this set pieces were as good as they were. It almost makes me forget how awful the writing is...almost
It wasted an excellent ensemble of actors - only Robert Pattinson was allowed to smile; everyone else was deadly serious and was detrimental to the experience. The lack of subtlety and inhumane characteristics in the acting is so off-putting. The script might've worked with a different sort of directing style to liven things up, but as it currently sits, it's unabashedly forgettable.
Lastly, all the craft and technical elements don't deserve the lambasting here. The sound design was a modern triumph and the gorgeous Hoyte van Hottest cinematography and the futuristic production design. The mind-blowingly good visual effects work. Also, credit Ludwig Goransson for another powerful score, even if it was laid on too thick in the editing. Unfortunately, the espionage-thriller narrative didn't match the level of craftsmanship, spending great deals of time on exposition and not coming together for that crescendo of story and craft that Nolan hoped for. It's a misfire for a modern giant, and despite the lackluster writing, I still see him producing the most innovative cinema in Hollywood today.