The Ultimate Straw Man Argument: How Nostalgia Effectively Impedes the Fair Analysis of Sequels

I’ll readily admit to being an optimist.

The rampant and persistent cynicism of the Internet – seemingly punctuated by a billion voices trawling incessantly for negativity – continues to mystify me.

I go into most films with the hope of seeing something good, enjoyable, or even legitimately fantastic.

To be certain I’m often disappointed but the idea of being predisposed to dislike something even before seeing it is difficult for me to fathom, especially when the film in question is a sequel to something I enjoyed immensely.

In a couple of weeks, the sequel to the seminal and massively influential science fiction masterpiece Blade Runner drops and outside of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, it is my most anticipated film of the year. Directed by the talented auteur filmmaker Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, The Arrival), and starring Harrison Ford and Ryan Gosling, this long-gestating and belated sequel is a project many of us assumed would never come to fruition.

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Everything about the film has looked entirely on point, from the tone and the aesthetics to the casting, yet I recently stumbled onto a large smattering of individuals who are convinced that this movie will be at best a disappointment and at worst an unmitigated disaster.

The rationale employed by these naysayers is largely rooted in speculative conjecture that appears to be housed primarily in their nostalgic reverence for the original. The most common complaint levied against the small amount of footage shown is that it looks and feels “different” than the original movie and that it will never live up to the greatness of the first film.

I’ve always found such criticisms – especially those that are rooted in speculation – to be utterly meritless. For such a criticism to have any validity, you would first have to demonstrate – either by inference or by explicit statement from the director – that the intention of this or any sequel is to somehow supplant or surpass the original.

In logic we call this the straw man fallacy, whereby you refute or attack an argument that was never actually posited, making it easy to knock over. The entire notion that a sequel must be equal or superior to the original is a classic straw man because rarely (if ever) has anyone associated with a sequel proclaimed it as superior to the first.

And for certain, nobody associated with the making of Blade Runner 2049 has suggested it will eclipse its progenitor.

The thing is, even if Blade Runner 2049 is the better film – something I don’t consider impossible given the tremendous coalescence of talent behind it – I would argue that most of the pessimists would never admit it for two very specific reasons:

Pride and nostalgia.

The first isn’t something I’ll waste time addressing other than to state that pride gets in the way of humility and we tend to learn the most when we are humble beings.

As for the latter, nostalgia is sweet glaze that warmly coats our memories and experiences with a thin layer of golden honey that makes even the bitter seem saccharine upon reflection.

But it also makes difficult the ability to give new things and endeavors a fair shake.

My theory as to why this is stems from the power of belief and how it acts like cement of the mind, holding us firmly to an idea with no room to expand, shift or pivot. This type of cognitive stagnation is never a good thing, even when analyzing art, yet people cling to their beliefs with a stubborn, almost desperate tenacity.

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For them, it doesn’t matter that Villeneuve is a master craftsman or that Harrison Ford is reprising his role or that the screenwriter who penned the original script returned to help write the sequel but instead what matters is that the very existence of this film is a threat to the status of their beloved original.

They do not want this film to be better or to even approach the proximity of the original because in doing so, the microcosmic perspective where their favorite films hold sway forever over anything that will ever come afterwards is splintered into irrelevant fragments.

Even if Blade Runner 2049 is a critical darling, there is already a large faction of people who have decided – without seeing the film – that it is an inferior work and those individuals do themselves and the medium a disservice by fallaciously asserting that the quality of a sequel in any way diminishes the impact and legacy of the original.

The respective merit of these two films is not a binary scenario; both can be excellent and the sequel can be a great movie without taking anything at all away from the accomplishments of its forbearer.

And the sweet confection of nostalgia can be pleasant and comforting without acting as a sticky adhesive for the mind, rooting us in place and robbing us of new, expansive experiences.

Just a thought from an eternal optimist looking forward to a long-awaited sequel.

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