Rather than opting for a traditional film review for Tenet, I have decided to do a review of the theatrical experience that surrounded Tenet. Being the first film I have seen since the pandemic began, I will be simultaneously reviewing the film while discussing the new reality we find ourselves in.
Tenet is a Christopher Nolan film in every single way. An amalgamation of themes and threads out of all his other films combined into one, Tenet has shades of the director’s best work, but not without some of tropes that take away from it being his best.
Wet seats, packets of liquid butter, and the smell of disinfectant in the air; yes, it was opening weekend for moviegoers in New York State. On October 23rd, after a long hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic, movie theaters opened throughout most of New York State. Cinemas were decimated during the pandemic’s start, with theater owners questioning the viability of the industry, and consumers worried about the safety of their traditional moviegoing experiences.
As a Rotten Tomatoes-certified film critic, I knew all too well about the magic of going to the movies. In 2019, I visited the theater 40 times, each giving a unique experience. Yet, no experience quite matches one of a post-pandemic world. To catch the first “opening weekend” for movie theaters since April, I traveled out to Nassau County’s AMC theater at Roosevelt Field in Long Island, the nearest open theatre and normally quite a popular one, to see how they handled their reopening, got a chance to experience all the new changes and experience a theatrical experience with a mask on.
At the front of the door was a simple sign; “masks must be worn at all times.” Once entering, the ground had stickers with six-feet distance markers leading guests to the concession stand, Concessions were, limited, kept at a distance from customers. Where once moviegoers would pick out their snacks or fill their drinks, the experience was different this time around. Something as simple as butter stands were closed down, with AMC opting to distribute liquid butter packets with each bucket of popcorn. A worker is permanently stationed at the soda fountain, checking receipts, picking out the cup, and filling the drink that customers once to fill themselves.
“No Refills on Drinks or Popcorn at this time” listed near the fountain, letting customers understand that there is only one round of each for the showing.
While only at 25% capacity, it seemed like many were showing up. Security would constantly remind customers to keep their masks above their noses. With the signs and concession stands were treated with seriousness, things got looser when customers were allowed to enter their rooms.
Christopher Nolan’s Tenet was released in the United States on August 12th a far cry away from the October 23rd release date I experienced it in New York. The film was once considered one of the most hyped releases of 2020. This time a staggered release, with no major markets, led the film to a $350 million worldwide box office, one of the lowest outings of his career. Tenet might have been the first and last major film release in theaters during this pandemic. The delay of other films like James Bond film, No Time To Die, caused controversy among theater owners, with all eyes on the New York Governor.
The true star of Tenet is the combined talent of Robert Pattinson and John David Washington. Washington quickly distinguished himself as of the best actors in the industry today, and it felt right that he wad front and center of Nolan’s latest blockbuster. Opposite Washington is Pattinson, who has the role of Batman coming up but gives off some Bruce Wayne vibes in his performance as Neil. The two actors had great chemistry together and the scenes they shared were by far the best moments of the film. Outside of them, the film had a mostly safe Nolan cast. No performances truly stood out but the layered plot and strong practical effects and set pieces brought a sense of Nolan flair as if Interstellar and Inception were one movie.
The magic of the moviegoing experience can mean a dozen things but one has undoubtedly been the experience of sitting with a crowd. Normally, moments in the film where Nolan directed stunning action set pieces or revealed a climactic plot twist would result in “oohs” and “aahs” from the audience. Today, there was a sense of subdued enjoyment. Maybe it was the aspect ratio of the film not filling the entire screen due to how green in the gill the workers were, or maybe it was the 25% capacity sucking the life out of the room, but the magic of movie theaters has a long ways to go before being what it was. It remains to be seen if it ever returns.
It would be interesting to imagine a world where Tenet released without a pandemic. Nolan’s films tend to be a blockbuster event in the world’s box office, and Tenet would have undoubtedly be seen by more eyes and perhaps given a different overall outlook. The film was not bad, nor was it Nolan’s best, but it still has much to enjoy.
Overall, Tenet is a strong entry into Nolan’s film resume. From the time travel elements, the strong action sequences, and interesting philosophical questions, Tenet is simply a fun ride.