Tom Jolliffe looks ahead to Tenet, and why it stands head and shoulders over every other tentpole release in 2020…
With the Disney machine making record money this year even before they’d fired out Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker to a public who seemed to go with a half-hearted, sleepwalking obligation over a fiery passion, it would seem that as long as the Franchise has enough pull, simple formula will lead (like the Pied Piper) audiences into their cinema foyer to buy a ticket (like seriously…go to the cinema and buy…online booking fees can get right to f…). We’ve got a year ahead that might feel a little stale on paper. Marvel has essentially peaked with their biggest of all time to round off its two part finale, so the next few films in their slate seem somewhat mundane. The last Spider-Man grossed over a billion dollars with ease but already feels like a hazy long forgotten memory. Black Widow which pops up early in the new year looks outdated and a bit laboured, a kind of dreary mix of Bourne pastiche and 5 year old Marvel aesthetics.
So what else is hitting the cinemas? A lot more Disney, with everything from Mulan, to aforementioned Marvel indifferences, some DC (which to be fair in the case of Wonder Woman 1984 and Birds of Prey look more visually engaging if nothing else) and then a certain James Bond. Here’s the thing, most of these will gross a billion dollars but is any of it worth caring about? Is any of it exciting? As far as this year goes, frankly, the idea of Adam Sandler actually acting in Uncut Gems gives me the underpant saber far more than actual lightsabers do. Next year will undoubtedly be the same and indie films will likely entice me more than blockbusters. It seems like they don’t even need to try and entice audience members in with anything fresh or exciting, and yet audiences are game for a bit of formulaic spectacle. The winning formulas seem easy, and yet, so many studios are pelting out bombs which any one with even a passing flick at the landscape and the audience would have known would bomb (but the studio heads remarkably still greenlit). Charlie’s Angels, Terminator: Dark Fate, Cats etc. Your grandma could have told producers the films were doomed.
Likewise we all know the releases that will make bank. All, with some minor exceptions or tracking eschews aside, do as you might think. The Rise of Skywalker might be yawning itself to a ‘disappointing’ box office return, but it’s still making huge numbers (Mickey Mouse ain’t gonna lose sleep over it). There may well be a slight warning sign there in over-saturation, but as much as anything it could be because the marketing was so uninspired too. From Godawful trailers to continually talking about the last film, it’s like Disney couldn’t be bothered. I guess if you don’t need to make the effort, why bother? They’ve had a clear holiday run as no one (who mattered) dared stand toe to toe.
There’s just one big screen blockbuster that looks exciting. That looks destined to be interesting and engaging and might actually hold some surprises…it’s Christopher Nolan’s latest film. Now lets be honest here, Nolan can almost do no wrong. He’s got a lot of fans who think he’s the greatest living director (maybe even beyond) and his films score epically high in public ranking systems like IMDB. I’ll say right off the bat, I’m a doubter. The guys great. His approach to the craft amazing and he’s made astonishing spectacle. All this Marvel talk, but not one film in that canon is fit to even tie the laces of The Dark Knight. Yet by the same token I felt Interstellar and Inception were overrated (and his final Batman film was a poor imitator of his previous). As far as spectacle, absolutely unsurpassably immense (in no small part due to Nolan’s preference for film over digital and practical effects of CG wherever possible). As a writer though, Nolan, I suppose much like Tarantino, is afforded the luxury of committing screenwriting cardinal sins that most would get raked over hot coals for; way too much exposition in meaty doses. Joseph Gordon Levitt in Inception (and indeed Ellen Page, the audience conduit) are essentially there to explain everything so the dream within a dream, within a dream stuff doesn’t get too convoluted…oh shit! I’ve gone cross-eyed…it’s too late!
However, whilst we might expect a fair dose more of lengthy expositionary exchanges in Tenet, what we can also expect is huge spectacle, impeccably put together. Who knows, Nolan’s ability to pull back on dialogue and tell more of his tale visually in Dunkirk (his best since TDK for me) could well have refreshed his approach to simplify his screenplays somewhat. Whatever, as much as Inception doesn’t warrant quite the placing it has in IMDB’s top 250, it’s easily one of the best blockbusters of the century, so that’s still a high level to hit. The first trailer, coming after a year of intrigue and mystery, has hinted at what Tenet might provide, with some feeling it could tie nicely together with Inception, but it was enticing, alluring, in a way that none of the other blockbuster trailers seem to be (including a rather damp squib of a Bond trailer that, through all its issues seems destined to be a hot mess). The action looks amazing. The plot potentially challenging, and whilst that leaning toward lengthy exposition might sometimes be an issue, these ideas still at least engage the mind a bit.
Furthermore, a Nolan film is always exceptionally cast and said cast always deliver their A game. There’s no chance of half-hearted phone-ins or wasted roles. Everyone will get their shining moment and will deliver, and it also offers a great platform for Robert Pattinson to pull around some of his Batman detractors, because lets face it, they’re never going to watch High-Life, The Lighthouse or Good Time.
So as we look forward to a new year, the cinematic radar has one firm, strong beacon among some distant fading beeps that will be routinely found by the masses…it’s Tenet. You can bet your bottom dollar it’ll probably be the best tentpole film next year. In fact, put your mortgage on it.
Tom Jolliffe is an award winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has several features due out on DVD/VOD in 2019/2020, including Cyber Bride and Scarecrow’s Revenge both available on Prime. Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see here.