John David Washington stars in Tenet (Image: Roadshow Pictures)
John David Washington stars in Tenet (Image: Roadshow Pictures)

SocietySeptember 4, 2020

Tenet is great – and that’s what cinemas need right now

John David Washington stars in Tenet (Image: Roadshow Pictures)
John David Washington stars in Tenet (Image: Roadshow Pictures)

After six months of film delays and cinema closures, Tenet is New Zealand’s only blockbuster hope, writes Stewart Sowman-Lund.

Black Widow, No Time to Die, A Quiet Place 2. All were big-budget should-be hits scheduled to open in New Zealand cinemas during the time of Covid-19. 

Now, they won’t be hitting screens until, at the earliest, Christmas – with many of this year’s biggest flicks now expected to become 2021’s biggest. The list of films delayed by the pandemic goes on a lot longer than you’d expect and is worth billions of dollars.

Here in New Zealand, the domestic box office is looking worse for wear. The two biggest films of the year so far, 1917 and Little Women, opened in January before the word “coronavirus” had even touched a news bulletin. Of the top 10 films this year, only one opened in cinemas outside of January or February. Compared to last year, this year’s biggest hit has earned less at the domestic box office than the 13th of 2019.

Globally, the situation is much the same. Of the top 10 biggest blockbuster hits of the year so far, it’s likely none would be anywhere near the top were it not for the pandemic. Bad Boys for Life (a film I hope nobody I care about watched) is currently the highest-grossing film of the year in the US, with just over $400 million in gross. Number two is, wait for it, Sonic the Hedgehog – little more than $US300 million.

By this time last year, we’d had seven films soar past the billion-US-dollar box-office mark.

So, back to Tenet. It’s Christopher Nolan’s latest, mind-blowing, work. It’s a big film. In any other year, it would still be a big film. But in 2020, the year of Covid-19, the significance and importance of Tenet is amplified significantly. Cinemas need us, and with almost all this year’s biggest films shunted back into next year, Tenet should be the film to draw people back.

It follows an unnamed “protagonist”, played by BlacKkKlansman’s John David Washington, as he attempts to stop World War III, relying on mysterious time-travel technology. He’s joined by Robert Pattinson who, since Twilight, has established himself as an incredibly reliable star, and Elizabeth Debicki, along with a host of Nolan regulars. If it weren’t for Nolan, would Michael Caine be getting work these days?

Tenet is a film that baffles as much as it impresses. Like Inception (which, amazingly, is 10 years old), the practical effects are remarkable and the pace is numbing. Bar some questionable sound-mixing, which seems to be as much of a Nolan staple as dazzling effects, it’s an extraordinary watch. Much like every non-Batman film in Nolan’s canon, Tenet makes very little sense in the best way possible.

The fact that it’s not shit is even more important in a year when people aren’t going to the cinema. And the fact that it requires more than one watch to know what the hell’s going on is important too. It’s also best seen on the biggest screen available, and while streaming things on Netflix is great – Tenet deserves the full cinema experience. 

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