Rob’s review published on Letterboxd:
Ah, Christopher Nolan. Batman broke something in the poor man. Ever since finishing the Dark Knight trilogy, he's been doing riffs. Interstellar was a riff on 2001: A Space Odyssey. Dunkirk was his war flick that didn't have much war and where escape was victory. And Tenet his a James Bond movie, almost literally turned inside out.
The secret agent is American, and instead of a famous name, he literally has none. He doesn't drink on the job. There are gadgets, but most of them belong to the antagonist. His sidekick is a British spy. MI-6 considers him to be a boor who needs culture. There is a beautiful woman, but her name isn't a euphemism for a sex act, and he doesn't nail her. And if that's not enough, Nolan goes full What The Fuck and turns time inside out through the whole picture.
Long story short: Tenet is Nolan's audition to direct a real James Bond movie, with enough science fiction bullshit in it to give him an excuse to do some nifty action photography that alternates between forward and reverse motion.
That's really pretty much it. Yeah, I know that Nolan said he spent a bunch of time talking with theoretical physicists about neutrinos and shit, and he claims that he avoided being influenced by any other spy movies, but I believe that bullshit about as much as I believe that the way to escape a black hole's event horizon is the power of love, or at least whimpering, "Murph!"
Because this is, at its core, a globetrotting James Bond story, albeit one where the villain is slightly less cartoonish, although no less bent on world domination and / or destruction. It's exotic locales around the world with the thinnest excuses for visiting them, with yachts and expensive rich people shit. Sure, he ladles a pile of time travel crap over the whole deal, but where the rubber hits the road, it's just another James Bond madman with a Doomsday Device.
That said, it's a pretty damn good James Bond story. It's no Skyfall, but the locations are beautifully shot by cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, and an interesting score by Ludwig Göransson that uses some synth sounds to sound reversed to set the mood.
Is it confusing? Sure it is, but if you're honest, how linear and simple are the plots of any James Bond flick? Those are all, Bond lands someplace and gets laid, and the woman who fucks him gives him a name and an exotic location we cut to, where someone tries to kill Bond and he gets a name and another exotic location, repeat until Bond is in a secret lair with a madman. Tenet is no different, it just dresses up that process with a bunch of crap about positrons. I'm fine with it.
And you gotta admit, the whole backwards and forwards thing makes for some really interesting action sequences, although while Nolan does a pretty decent job laying things out so you can follow them, it does get confusing from time to time keeping track of who's doing what and when.
After all the sturm und drang around getting this released in theaters during the height of the pandemic, and Nolan's righteous indignation that Tenet would be released direct to streaming over his dead body, this was basically a better-than-average Bond flick that takes the sci-fi gadgetry to extremes. It's no Primer or 2001, it's just a solid spy thriller with a gimmick. I liked it better than I thought I was going to, but it's less the future of cinema than it is a well-executed pastiche, and it sure as hell isn't good enough to have risked dying over going to see in IMAX.