Blade Runner 2049

Blade Runner 2049 ★★★★★

It would be shocking enough if this movie were good at all, but the fact that Blade Runner 2049 is a masterpiece to the level that it is is something that I don’t think we as a society have fully come to grips with yet. It’s astonishing to me that this movie and Creed came out within two years of each other, since they’re both the ultimate examples of movies where all conventional wisdom would indicate that they be the worst kind of corporate cash grabs, soulless in the extreme, only for them both to be not only perfect films, but arguably the best entities in their respective series.

All conventional wisdom indicated that this should’ve sucked. It’s a sequel to a widely-beloved classic film, made decades after the original came out. It’s a sequel to a film that, quite frankly, wasn’t screaming out for a sequel. It’s also, and this is the real kicker, a sequel to a film that fans and audiences are a little split over what the “correct” version of the original film actually is. It’s almost three hours long - a personal frustration of mine, as very very few films these days seem to be able to justify their over-inflated length - and stars the actor of the original film, who in recent years had started to really phone in his performance (I remember watching Ender’s Game, and legitimately wondering if Ford was on Xanax or something). Nothing about this looked like it was going to be good.

Save, of course, for the fact that Denis Villeneuve was the guy doing it. And I still think the fact that he was able to pull this off was far from a sure thing, of course (great directors are capable of making terrible movies all the time), but it really was this accomplishment that cemented him as a member of the mile-high club of “holy shit, you need to watch everything this dude’s ever done and then see everything he will do on opening night” directors. People talk about the one-two punch of Alien and Blade Runner single-handedly propelling Ridley Scott into the stratosphere of respected directors, and it’s hard not to see parallels between Arrival and Blade Runner 2049 doing the same for Villeneuve. Because people really loved Arrival, but I remember the combo of those two movies sending real shockwaves through the online film community.

And why wouldn’t it? Films like this don’t happen every day. Not since Batman Begins can I remember seeing a big budget studio film that gave me such a strong sensation that I was actually watching someone’s scrappy little personal project. Stuff like this is genuinely affirming, because it shows how big studio movies should be made (mind you, this and Creed are absolutely the exceptions that prove the rule in terms of how fucking corporate and soulless these things usually are). It does everything right that these movies always seem to get so, so, so wrong: I actually finished this almost three hour movie and though to myself, “yea it could’ve been three hours longer.” And I hate long movies! Of course, the fact that I was thinking it could’ve been longer is just indicative of the fact that it’s perfectly paced as is; even a minute longer or shorter would’ve probably destabilized the whole thing.

It’s always weird saying that the success of films that feel this tightly controlled was an “accident,” but it’s especially weird for the sequel to Blade Runner, which itself felt largely like an accident in a lot of ways, to the point where it needed multiple cuts to straighten some of it out. And on that note: yes, I prefer this movie to the original. I hold the first movie in high regard, like I’m pretty sure all pretentious film nerds do, and (like I said in my review) I actually think that the imperfections of that film are part of what gives it such power and personality (there was a great Hbomberguy video about the phenomenon of director’s cuts, and he mentioned this really interesting tidbit when talking about the compilation Blade Runner’s “Final Cut,” where the guys making it took great care to actually maintain some of the continuity errors and gaffes present in that film, recognizing how they in fact benefitted the film overall).

So I do appreciate that. But in terms of actually capturing my imagination, transporting me to a another world with the clarity and clear-eyed vision of a master filmmaker, it has to be said that to me, this is legitimately all the promise of Blade Runner, without any of the clunky shit that’s kept me from fully engaging with it all these years. It’s not just the finely-tuned filmmaking, or the attention to worldbuilding detail; it honestly feels like they captured the spirit of the original film in a way few other films of this kind could even dare to. There’s a similarly elusive nature at the heart of this film, a sense of the proper amount of respect for the source, combined with the boldness of staking out its own claim. I heard someone else say this, and it’s so true: “I have never seen a sequel, let alone one no one asked for or wanted, that had such reverence for its source material, and such careful regard for conflicting fan theories.” For only someone with a vested interest in what made Blade Runner really work would understand the importance of simultaneously making a definitive thematic statement in regards to Deckard’s humanity, WHILE ALSO MAINTAINING a level of ambiguity about whether or not he was a human! Seriously, how do you do that?!?!? How did this French Canadian fucker pull this shit off?!?!?!!?

Whatever wild confluence of circumstances led to this movie being made the way it was - with cinematography god Roger Deakins doing career-best work, or the confidently languid pace that's not afraid to let a scene sit the fuck still and make us bask in it, or the fact that Harrison Ford was in it and able to remind us what he’s capable of when he actually bothers to show up - I’m happy. I mean, I’d be happier if it actually made some money, but honestly, the fact that this exists at all is victory enough for me, and I hope for Villeneuve too. Dave Bautista (who is AMAZING in this) opens the film by saying, “You’ve never seen a miracle.” After this movie, I feel like I have.

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