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Blade Runner 2049

Blade Runner 2049 is not as indispensable as its predecessor Blade Runner. It is better than that almost anything else I've seen this year and a sincere redrafting of the original. What was great about Deckard's hunt for rogue androids in 1982 is updated here, explored in more detail or juxtaposed with other ideas. This is not simply a reboot or a redo. It is a child of the original movie. It shares creative DNA with its ancestor mixed with enough inevitable mutations to be a distinct and separate expression.

The plot here is wrapped in several layers of spoiler-bait. An replicant cop, K (short for KD9-3.7)  goes to retire a rogue android and discovers a secret literally buried for decades. A secret that pushes him to reconsider his own existence.

Let's talk first about why I think a lover of movies might want to see this film. Ryan Gosling's work here is top-notch and his role in the film, as a questioner and thinking being in the grip of an existential crisis, is fully realized. I was genuinely affected by his story in this movie, probably a bit more than anything else in the movie, to be honest. There is an aspect of his life and his illusions that really spoke to me.

Cyberpunk is a literature about a future already well on its way to arriving. Beyond its ability at prognostication, cyberpunk focuses on the struggle to assimilate the defining feature of the post-modern present: ceaseless, accelerating change. It is that theme, more than others that stuck with me here, the sense that even though the people (natural and artificial) don't change all that much, the world they inhabit continues to evolve (or devolve) faster than they could ever hope to keep up with. What 1982 made of 2019 seems a very different thing from what we confront in 2017.

As for the cinematography, let's credit Roger Deakins here with painting a picture of a dystopian future that in some ways feels more pathetic and soul-wrenching than the wasteland of Fury Road, while retaining an appalling beauty. It does have a few shots that remind me of the original but it has plenty of other work that's like nothing else I've ever seen outside of Simon Stålenhag.

"deadcades" by Simon Stålenhag
What is great about this film is how its impact fills any space it occupies. For vast stretches of the movie, you are simply within its universe. The soundtrack is thunderous and eerie - using Vangelis' theme as a jumping off point to a much larger canvas. An aspect of this music seeks to deliberately unsettle and overwhelm. Both visuals and audio demand the largest and most powerful theater your money or zip code will allow. 

Like its parent film, however, 2049 has it share of flaws. Its cast is a wash of pale monochromes weighted very heavily towards men. And those women in the film don't have a lot to do. They're either locked in cages real or figurative, or provide mute audiences for men controlling their lives. In some respects Rachel from the original film had more agency than the women here.

So, does that mean it's unwatchable? 

It means the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. 

I'd like an orchard to have enough varieties of apples that an occasional film like this, which can't quite make the inclusive gestures of Fury Road or for that matter The Matrix, can still be appreciated for what is. 

Blade Runner 2049 is three hours long and I can't say that everything in it is defensible. I will say it is art meant to be thought-provoking and hard to forget that succeeds on those terms. Ultimately, I hope there are merits to superior craft that go beyond flaws, without covering them up or negating them. I'm sure you can make up your mind either way.


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