It has been quite a year for guarded cinematic expectations.
We had, at last, the first big screen version of Wonder Woman. Released as part of a grim canvas of dreary and uninspiring DC superhero movies, it’s hardly surprising that many people were excited at the thought of a Wonder Woman movie, but also wary of how it might turn out. It ended up being awesome and, rightfully, an enormous hit.
We had Ridley Scott finally doing a bona fide sequel to Alien with Alien Covenant. The trailer may have been great, but the finished movie proved to have far less meat on its bones that the problematic Prometheus and was underwhelming as an Alien movie too.
Then, most recently, Blade Runner 2049: a movie I refused to either get excited about, or assume I would be disappointed by. The trailers proved that the makers had been able to capture the look and feel of the first movie, but it still seemed a long shot that they could capture everything they needed to in order to craft a worthy follow-up.
And yet they did! It’s an amazing achievement. Blade Runner 2049 is a movie that is written entirely in the language of its predecessor (the look, the sound, even the feel) while still providing a fresh experience. It builds on the threads that the first movie laid out, but weaves its own narrative. I can’t think any other sequels (at this moment) that have managed to do this. Aliens and Empire Strikes Back, for example, are excellent sequels but seem to be crafted from rather different DNA than their forebears. On the other extreme, many superhero franchises throw out perfectly good sequels … which typically involve many of the same characters and story beats in an effort to provide audiences with familiarity.
Having had Blade Runner in my cinematic blood for the last 30 years, it’s hard for me to see the sequel without being mindful of the original. Knowledge of the first film certainly enhances appreciation of the second, but I believe Blade Runner 2049 has been built to stand on its own. It reminds me of the ambitious, big-thinking, story-driven science fiction movies of the 1970s: it’s driven by character as much as it is by big ideas, and while the visual effects are stunning, they never dominate the narrative.
It’s too bad it’s not doing that well at the box office. We seem, once again, to be in a time when this style of science fiction simply doesn’t draw the crowds. Or maybe it’s always been this way, and the few films that do make it through are wonderful aberrations. Which is why we end up treasuring them so.
Either way, I’m already looking forward to seeing this one again.