Release: October 6, 2017
Genre: Science Fiction/Neo Noir
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Screenplay: Hampton Fancher and Michael Green
Starring: Ryan Gosling as K, Harrison Ford as Rick Deckard, Sylvia Hoeks as Luv, Ana de Armas as Joi, and Jared Leto as Niander Wallace
Warning: Potential spoilers ahead
In 2049, K is a replicant working for the LAPD as a blade runner. When he visits a protein farm outside of the city limits to “retire” a rogue replicant, he finds some buried remains. A lab exam determines that the remains are those of a female replicant and that she died during childbirth. K’s superior informs him that he has to hunt down this child and kill it to prevent the truth, that replicants can have children, from coming out. Meanwhile, industrialist (and all around uninteresting character) Niander Wallace orders his replicant henchman to find the child because he needs it. You see, he just can’t produce enough replicants. This forms the central crux of the narrative in Blade Runner 2049. I’ll leave it there so as not to spoil the film for anyone who may be interested in viewing it.
Blade Runner 2049 is, in no uncertain terms, the ultimate manifestation of just how badly Hollywood is scraping the bottom of the barrel in it’s lust for sequels. While I enjoy the original Blade Runner, there’s no way it could be considered a run away financial success. Essentially, this is a sequel to a flop, so breathless internet critics crying about the stupidity of general audiences for not seeing this flick should have expected it to a flop in the first place. One doesn’t generally make sequels to flop. You don’t exactly see anyone in a rush to bankroll Plan 10 from Outer Space, or The Room 2: Mark’s Revenge. Furthermore, this film is just bad. Where the original Blade Runner is a sci-fi cult classic that really helped to kick off cinematic cyberpunk and explored relative deep themes like what it means to be human (and remains possibly the best cinematic adaptation of a Philip K. Dick novel), Blade Runner 2049 is about 163 minutes long.
The film suffers from it’s run time. Scenes go on for too long, camera shots linger for too long, everything just goes on for too long. 2049 clocks in at almost an hour longer than the original and it does absolutely nothing with all that extra running time. Nothing occurs to propel the story forward, and often times it feels like you’re simply watching these characters exist for the sake of existing. Many scenes are padded by extended wide angle shots that do nothing but call attention the film’s bland set designs, and my god are they bland. Every location in this film is empty, sterile, and clinical. It calls to mind the visuals of Villeneuve’s previous science fiction offering, Arrival. This is cyberpunk. It should be cluttered and grimy. To make things worse on the visual front, Villeneuve’s favourite film effect is back. The entire movie is desaturated to the point that it looks as though the viewer is watching it through a hazy morning fog, even when a scene is set indoors.
The acting is mostly good, despite the weak material that the actors are working with. Two notable exceptions do exist though, Jared Leto’s Niander Wallace and Ana De Armas’ Joi. Leto’s performance is at once flat and hammy. Unfortunately, this also calls extra attention to what a frankly stupid villain Wallace is. Nothing about his character’s motivation makes sense. Why is it so imperative for him that robots be able to have children? What advantage is there in a robot that ages? Perhaps some sort of planned obsolescence (a la the iPhone), but supposedly it’s because he can’t produce enough robots at his factory to meet demand. If that’s the case, how did he become such a successful industrialist? Armas’ performance as Joi is flat, and the character comes across as comical more often than not. This is supposed to be a neo noir and we’re treated to scenes of a man making out with his intangible pocket girlfriend. I would say that Joi was Villeneuve and Fancher trolling the audience, but I don’t think either man is that clever. On the topic of character motivations, Robin Wright’s Lt. Joshi is a similarly stupid character. Why is it so imperative that no one find out that Tyrell made a one off prototype that could have children? Ironically, she’ll never tell in any coherent way in this film that is usually overly explanatory to a fault.
Possibly the worst sequence in the film comes at the beginning when K is “retiring” a rogue replicant called Sapper Morton. It culminates in a corny line about witnessing miracles that was clearly a blatant attempt at doing a pseudo recreation of Rutger Hauer’s rooftop monologue from the first film. Of course, compounding all of the problems with this movie is the score by Hans Zimmer. It jarringly veers between nonexistent and oppressive and very rarely serves to accentuate any of the things happening on screen. It just is. It’s there, it exists for the purpose of existing. It reminds me, for lack of a better comparison, of an Assassin’s Creed score. Pointlessly loud and dramatic at points when it is not called for.
There really is nothing positive I can say about this film. I avoided it for months, and as far as I am concerned I was correct in doing so. It’s a weak piece of celluloid, at once pretentious and vacuous, that was made in a blatant attempt to cash in on the legacy of its predecessor. Ridley Scott has talked recently about there being more stories to tell in the Blade Runner universe, but if 2049 is any indication then no, there are not. There is nothing about this movie that makes me curious about what will become of the rest of the “replicant freedom movement,” or to Deckard and his robo-kid. It’s certainly a film that asks a lot of questions, but ultimately it asks stupid questions.