Who knows, maybe I’ll appreciate it in 35 years.
Right now, Blade Runner 2049 being in theatres reminds me of high school. It seems the majority of people are going to see it because “it’s the cool thing to do.” I am a fan of the original (though I didn’t initially understand it the first few times I’d watched it); I enjoyed all the head-scratching moments it had to offer. Not too long ago, I watched a different cut — this one with more footage and without the narration. I also enjoyed that.
Unfortunately, the follow-up was a movie that fell victim to a problem typical of the last few years: we all find the new “it” visionary in Hollywood to latch onto (in this case, Canadian director Denis Villeneuve) for whatever reason (this time, I’d argue it was for Villeneuve’s fresh take on sensory experiences in films like Arrival and Sicario), we hold him in the highest regard…and then for some reason, it feels almost as if he decides to get lazy by using way too many tropes he’s best known for.
I’ll delve into that momentarily.
Set 30 years after the original film, Blade Runner 2049 follows Blade Runner “K” (Ryan Gosling) who finds the remains of a once-pregnant replicant. Those in the upper echelons, like K’s boss Lt. Joshi, for instance (Robin Wright) believe this discovery becoming public could start a war. For those of us asking what a replicant is, in the Blade Runner universe, the term refers to a bio-engineered android that looks human; there are tests that can be used to figure out if someone appearing to be a person is actually a replicant. Replicants are usually “retired” (read: destroyed) by Blade Runners.
So, it becomes up to K to figure out whose child it is, and if the child is still alive. K is doing all this under the success of Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) who has cornered the market the Tyrell Corporation once had. Wallace’s enforcer, Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) is determined to stop K at all costs, per Wallace’s mandate.
There is no denying Villeneuve’s talent. If you haven’t seen Prisoners, Sicario, or Arrival, then for goodness’ sake, put those films on your list of things to watch. And while each of those three films is different in their own way, they all manage to tackle the themes of darkness so uniquely; so brilliantly. There are shades of overlap, but if you’ve seen all three movies, there is a solid mix of moments where you feel like you do — and don’t know that these are Villeneuve’s films.
Coming back to Blade Runner 2049, there were too many parts where I felt too often I was watching Arrival. No, it’s not that there were octopi-looking aliens or people trying to decipher symbols and such, but the issue was mostly with the sound, paired with the visuals. Arrival didn’t really make much use of a typical musical soundtrack; it used all kinds of interesting, out-of-tune noises to get the point of the story across, and you get so much of the same in Blade Runner 2049 that for me, it becomes a distraction. Villeneuve also has a visual colour palette he’s clearly attracted to; this includes greens and greys. This is something I’ve come to associate with Arrival, because it was a major part of the storytelling. Villeneuve’s effort in Blade Runner 2049 — or, arguably, lack thereof — feels to me like he used a formula he was familiar with so people would recognize him (and his films) in light of Arrival’s success.
And then pairing that “been there, done that” issue with drawn out writing and slow pacing, it created disenchantment in me. One of the big things I’d heard from most people before going to watch the movie was to prepare for an amazing visual experience. After sitting there, watching the screen for nearly three hours, I have to say I don’t really have any moments, visually, that left an incredible mark on me. Sure, some of the details were sharp, like building and tech designs, but there wasn’t anything from scenes that really ‘wowed’ me or stuck with me.
Where the aforementioned writing and pacing falls short is when too many shots are used to establish information. One scene early in the film involving a toy horse, for instance, could have been done using half the establishing shots involving the toy, K, and the place he’d been crouched in. We get it: the horse is important to the story. Let’s keep it going so I don’t fall asleep.
Outside of all that, Blade Runner 2049 does have some memorable moments — in a good way. Thank goodness for Harrison Ford, Ryan Gosling and Sylvia Hoeks. I let out a few laughs during the film (the part with the dog and the whiskey was a nice touch) but I found myself enjoying some of the actors’ performances on their own more than the story as a whole. Hoeks is disturbingly good as Luv; you can tell she put a lot of work into combat training to make her character one you’ll love to hate. The sociological nerd in me was also cheering as we revisited questions of humanity and its relationship with machines. For me, that’s what saves some of the nearly three hours I spent in the theatre, trying to put my finger on what was bothering me for much of the film.
Cut to the chase: there was way too much technical influence from Arrival, but let me stress: this was not the worst film of the year — I’d say it was a mediocre experience for me. Will it get nominated for a bunch of awards? Yes. I just find it incredibly lazy and lackluster, regardless of the reason, to use too much distracting influence from previous movies. If you’re a Blade Runner fan, then see it. If you like Harrison Ford and/or Ryan Gosling, go see it. I know I’m not in the majority here, but maybe it’s because I’m a replicant and just don’t get what all the other humans are fawning over. *shrug*
2.5 out of 5.