The past few years have seen American cinema look backwards—producers and writers are drawing inspiration from the great films of the past, in an effort to revitalize and re-energize the current film economy. While this offers an opportunity for older filmgoers to revisit the movies that formed their pop culture sensibilities, and goes to a certain extent to ensure that there is an audience for these films, it also opens up these movies to a critique of their “derivative,” “uninspired” nature. Blade Runner 2049 is a film that seems as if it would be wide open to these critiques, given Blade Runner’s status as a science fiction aesthetic milestone, but it would appear that the film, and its director, Dennis Villeneuve—a former indie darling turned science fiction visionary—has managed to sidestep these critiques, although the movie still lacks a real sense of ingenuity.
Blade Runner 2049 uses a very similar approach to the most recent Star Wars installment to win over its viewers. They are content to function as neither a true sequel nor a remake, but something in-between the two. These most recent blockbusters are remixes, taking the visual, auditory and plot elements of their original films and changing them up just enough so that they can feel slightly new, without changing enough to cause any alienation. This epitomizes the impetus of looking backward in Hollywood cinema—they offer a kind of fresh nostalgia.
Unfortunately, in both cases, but especially in the case of a ‘big idea’ movie such as Blade Runner 2049, this approach to conceptualizing a movie causes an inherent lack of purpose. Why make Blade Runner 2049? It fails to add anything to the philosophical framework of the original movie (and by my money inherently misunderstands it). It’s extraordinarily bloated running time—another shared trait with Star Wars Episode VII—does nothing to justify itself, outside of a lazily masturbatory exercise in mimicking the original’s cinematic and aural language. These movies make for pretty pictures, but what is the technique in service for? If going to the movies is now about activating nostalgia, why not just re-release Blade Runner? It probably holds up better than the studios might think.