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The Limits of Fidelity

Blade Runner 2049 and Battle of the Sexes


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BLADE RUNNER 2049. Lukewarm reception of an arguably perfect thing, based entirely on one's own predilections rather than on the qualities of said thing, can carry with it some share of guilt or wrongdoing; a sense of having failed the thing more than it has failed you. Such is my quandary with Blade Runner 2049, a movie I long anticipated and, while watching, could appreciate as an almost-flawlessly constructed, ideally fitted sequel. But therein lays the issue: I don't love Blade Runner (1982). I certainly appreciate it, both in its own right and for its lasting legacy, but it's just not my thing.

I revisited the original in the lead-up to 2049, as my memory of it was hazy, at best. Upon doing so, just days ago, I was surprised at how much I had forgotten, but also how little. Blade Runner is a dark creation of great depth and breadth, more a realized world of imagination within which a story takes place than a "movie" in conventional terms. It is unrivaled, particularly in science fiction, for mood and aesthetic, and sustains an occasionally discomfiting level of narrative ambiguity. That said, the handling of plot gets a little plodding and speeches, grand though they may be, all too often confound the pacing even further.

Despite what I see as flaws in the original, it is unreservedly a kind of masterpiece, a genre-defining work of art and a classic.

And so I struggle to criticize Denis Villeneuve's second entry in this canon: What I see as shortcomings, purists will likely celebrate. And we can share in our enjoyment of its many successes.

Three decades after the events of the first movie, a blade runner called K (Ryan Gosling) — who we learn is a replicant in the early going — uncovers evidence that blurs the lines dividing society and, according to his superior Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright), must be suppressed in order to maintain some semblance of peace and order. K keeps up the appearance of following orders but conducts a sub rosa investigation that brings up ever more and greater existential questions. His work attracts the attention of Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), a billionaire industrialist and Japonisme enthusiast who bought out the bankrupted Tyrell Corporation and revitalized replicant production. Eventually, all roads lead to Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) and a place where questions of birth, identity and humanity must be answered.

Like any Villeneuve movie, every frame of Blade Runner 2049 looks like a painterly little masterpiece. (This, once again, thanks to the ever-better work of the legendary director of photography Roger Deakins.) The costuming, production design and set construction exceed anything else this year for audacity of imagination and quality of execution. The world of Blade Runner is painted across the screen but as it would be given 30 more years of simultaneous decay and progress: gorgeous decrepitude artfully wrought. And, like its predecessor, 2049 moves broodingly along, steeped in angst and questioning, with too many long, talky scenes and telegraphed plot points. Again, this may be an unfair criticism: This sequel is truer to its source material than maybe any other I've seen (original writer Hampton Fancher even collaborated on the screenplay). It feels more Blade Runner than Blade Runner, all the way to the end of its near three-hour running time. What I perceive as flaws are so inherently part of its cinematic DNA, so integral to the success of the original, that I hesitate to call them out. But, as a casual appreciator (and a die-hard Villeneuve fan), there are a few elements here that distract and subtract from the cumulative effect of the experience. R. 163m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.

BATTLE OF THE SEXES. Whether a result of mood or unreasonable expectations, this seems to have been a weekend of mild deflation.

Early trailers for Battle led to anticipation of a feminist sports dramedy, a reminder in dark times of the progress that has actually been made, concealed within an enjoyable little tennis movie. And there are glimmers of that, along with a rich 1970s aesthetic and immersive performances. But the whole thing doesn't quite come together.

After winning a championship in 1972, Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) petitions the sanctioning body of American tennis for equal pay for women. This, not surprisingly, is met with a lot of eye-rolling bullshit from the sideburns who run the operation, embodied by the odious Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman). In protest, she and her agent Gladys Heldman (Sarah Silverman), pull together a group of players to resign and found their own rival league. This attracts the attention of former champion and inveterate gambler Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell), who mounts a noisy campaign to play a match against King for gender superiority. King, meanwhile, struggles with internal conflicts about her sexual identity and her responsibilities to the tennis tour.

Stone and Carell inhabit their characters with great humor and depth, and the supporting cast does uniformly solid work. The look of the movie, as one might expect from directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine, Ruby Sparks) throbs with saturated color and cool 1970s style. But the conflict at the heart of the piece feels as if it is held at arm's length, though: Stone's vivid characterization is frustratingly truncated by editing and so much of its impact, and that of the movie as a whole, is lost. PG13. 1121m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.

— John J. Bennett

For showtimes, see the Journal's listings at or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richards' Goat Miniplex 630-5000.


THE FOREIGNER. An unsmiling Jackie Chan plays a London man who loses his daughter in a terrorist attack and goes back to his black ops roots to avenge her. With Katie Leung and Pierce Brosnan. R. 114m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

HAPPY DEATH DAY. A young woman (Jessica Rothe) in a Groundhog Day loop on her birthday must figure out who her own killer is. PG13. 96m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

CLUE (1985). Tim Curry, Madeline Kahn and Christopher Lloyd in the library with the wrench. PG13. 126m. BROADWAY.


AMERICAN MADE. Tom Cruise and director Doug Liman find their groove in this entertaining true story of a pilot in over his head with cartels and the CIA in the 1980s. Cruise adds self-doubt to his usual bravado and Sarah Wright and Domhnall Gleeson shine in supporting roles. R. 115m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.

FLATLINERS. Back from the dead, this time with Ellen Page heading up the team of rogue med students killing and resuscitating one another for science and, inadvertently, bad juju. PG13. 109m. BROADWAY.

IT. True to the spirit of the Stephen King novel, if not the letter, director Andy Muschietti wrests touching performances from child actors in a horror that blends old-fashioned jump scares with the dramas of early adolescence. And Bill Skarsgård is deeply creepy as Pennywise the Clown. R. 97m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.

KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE. Director Matthew Vaughn's spy comic adaptation sequel is cartoonish, ultra-violent and silly. It's also gorgeously constructed and uniquely entertaining. Starring Taron Egerton, Colin Firth and Julianne Moore. R. 141m. BROADWAY.

THE LEGO NINJAGO MOVIE. The sharp little ninja figures you keep stepping on in the living room have an animated movie now. With Jackie Chan and Kumail Nanjiani. PG. 101m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MINOR.

THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US. Kate Winslet and Idris Elba are crash survivors stranded in the wilderness. Smart money says she doesn't push him off a raft like Leo. PG13. 104m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, FORTUNA.

MY LITTLE PONY: THE MOVIE. Ride-or-die pals Twilight Sparkle, Applejack, Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy and Rarity defend Equestria against a punk who brings dark powers to a magic-of-friendship fight. PG. 104m. BROADWAY.

RUMBLE: THE INDIANS WHO ROCKED THE WORLD. Documentary about the unsung role Native musicians have played in shaping American music. NR. 103m. MINIPLEX.

WELCOME TO WILLITS. Well, this looks batshit. Pot farmers, alien abductions and Dolph Lundgren in the Willits woods. Expect to see lots of Louisiana and Los Angeles. PG. 82m. MINIPLEX.

— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill


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