Blade Runner 2049

Blade-Runner-2049rev Blade Runner 2049  (2017)    Warner Bros./Sci-Fi-Thriller    RT: 163 minutes    Rated R (violence, some sexuality, nudity, language)    Director: Denis Villeneuve    Screenplay: Hampton Fancher and Michael Green    Music: Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch    Cinematography: Roger Deakins    Release date: October 6, 2017 (US)    Cast: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Mackenzie Davis, Carla Juri, Lennie James, Dave Bautista, Jared Leto, David Dastmalchian, Barkhad Abdi, Hiam Abbass, Wood Harris.

Rating:fullstar1fullstar1halfstar1star-empty1

 I was afraid this might happen. I was disappointed by Blade Runner 2049. Even with all the glowing reviews, I should have known that the sequel wouldn’t measure up to the original which is my all-time favorite sci-fi movie (next to 2001: A Space Odyssey). Therein lies part of the problem. Since it’s my favorite, almost anything would pale in comparison. I tried to keep an open mind. I tried to be optimistic. I thought if anybody (other than Ridley Scott that is) could pull off a sequel to Blade Runner (35 years after the fact, no less), it would be Denis Villeneuve, the director who redefined the alien invasion flick with last year’s mind-blowing Arrival. He makes a valiant effort with Blade Runner 2049 except this time it yields mixed results.

 Blade-Runner-2049As per the directive sent out by the studio, there’s only so much I can tell you about the plot. They don’t want any spoilers getting out there at this time including one that’s revealed in the first ten minutes. That one actually isn’t very surprising but I’m still keeping it to myself out of professional courtesy. Here’s what I can tell you. Set 30 years after the first movie, there’s still a lot of prejudice towards replicants even though newer, more obedient models have been integrated into society. Older models are still hunted down and “retired” by cops known as “blade runners”. The blade runner in this movie is K (Gosling, La La Land) who we first meet retiring an older model replicant (Bautista, Guardians of the Galaxy) working as a farmer. This assignment leads K to discover a secret that, if it got out, would change the way the world looks at replicants. Naturally, there are those that would prefer it remain a secret. K’s investigation leads him to Rick Deckard (Ford) who’s been in hiding all these years. That’s all I can and will say about the plot.

 Some are calling Blade Runner 2049 the best sequel ever made. I hardly think so. There’s much to admire about it; unfortunately, there’s also much to criticize. It’s an ambitious movie, perhaps too ambitious. At 163 minutes, it’s bloated and overblown. The storyline is convoluted. It drags at several points. The first Blade Runner was also slow but the awesome visuals really compensated for the lagging pace. There was always something to catch your eye. They still hold up. I find the visuals just as jaw-dropping now as I did when I was 14. Villeneuve employs a different visual aesthetic for Blade Runner 2049 and I’m not that impressed. There are a few cool visuals but a lot of time, it’s kind of drab. The cityscapes aren’t as imposing. There isn’t that mix of the past and the future like there was in the first movie. Villeneuve places a greater emphasis on sound. There are a lot of loud booming sounds in the movie. It has a jarring effect on the senses. The score by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch evokes Vangelis’ synth-heavy score from the original. It adds a layer of dread to the proceedings.

 One of the main things I don’t like about Blade Runner 2049 is that there weren’t any cool characters on the level of Roy Batty or Tyrell. The villains in this one are Niander Wallace (Leto, Dallas Buyers Club), the replicant manufacturer who acquired Tyrell’s company after the 2019 fiasco with the Nexus-6 models and his henchwoman Luv (Dutch actress Hoeks) who spends the movie trying to kill K so the big secret is never revealed. She’s pretty kick-ass; Leto’s character didn’t make all that big an impression. The only other characters worth mentioning are K’s boss Lt. Joshi (Wright, Wonder Woman) and his holographic girlfriend Joi (de Armas, War Dogs). The acting is pretty good. About Gosling, I’ll only say his performance is right for the character he plays. Ford is great as an older, grumpier Deckard. He lives in a high-rise in what used to be Las Vegas. I don’t want to say much else about his character so I’ll leave it at this.

 The first Blade Runner was a deft blend of dystopian sci-fi, detective noir and Frankenstein. It was a real game-changer for the genre. It was a movie ahead of its time. Audiences didn’t know what to make of it at the time and while it turned a small profit, it wasn’t the hit the studio hoped it would be. I don’t know if the same fate awaits Blade Runner 2049. It too mixes sci-fi and detective noir but it’s not as cool this time. What I do admire about the sequel, however, is that it’s not a mere rehash of the first movie. It expands upon it by further exploring themes like memory and what it means to be human. If nothing else, Blade Runner 2049 is intelligent. It also assumes intelligence on the part of the viewer. It doesn’t pander to the moron demographic with a lot of explosions and CGI battles. It has so many good points that I really wished I liked it more than I do. It’s a pretty good sequel but it’s not the classic a lot people seem to think it is. I’m sticking to my opinion for now but I’m willing to see it a second time. You know, just in case.

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