Tamara and Rebecca tackle the long-awaited sequel to the sci-fi/noir classic, “Blade Runner.”
Denis Villeneuve, I have a complicated love-hate relationship with you. Sometimes, you’re capable of making a movie in two hours or less, with complex characters and stunning visuals. I like those movies, specifically “Sicario” and “Arrival.” And then there was “Prisoners,” the 2½-hour lie of a thriller that I solved in the first 20 minutes and wished I had taken a nap during the rest of it. Where does “Blade Runner 2049” fall into these two extremes? Let’s say that if there’s a sequel, I’m taking a blankie.
“Blade Runner 2049” takes place 30 years from the original “Blade Runner” and 20 years after a blackout wiped out a system and made most of the old computer files wiped out. In the meantime, improved replicants have been created by the Wallace Corp., mostly to obey every command a real person will give them. A newer replicant K (Ryan Gosling) is a young blade runner who investigates a case that is linked to the earlier film. K uncovers a secret that will upset the natural but unstable order of the gloomy, lacking world that can’t even grow plants.
K answers to Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright), who doesn’t see any human qualities in her slave labor. He lives in a nondescriptive home where he has a nonemotional relationship with Joi (Ana de Armas), a Wallace Corp. hologram who becomes whatever its owner wants. K’s find pits two forces against each other – the humans represented by the Los Angeles Police Department and the Wallace Corp. with its head honcho Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) and his right-hand replicant Luv (Sylvia Hoeks).
What unfolds is K’s struggle to figure out where he belongs in this world. If he doesn’t have a soul, like Joshi says he doesn’t, then why does he have conflicting feelings? His relationship with Joi becomes more complex as K’s quest to figure out what his discovery means, and his mission becomes unnecessarily longer.
That’s right. If you’re one of those people who can solve a “Law & Order” episode just by reading the guest starring credits, this movie is not for you. K’s role in dark and gloomy Los Angeles is front and center as to what the secret is. If you watch carefully, even in the first two minutes, you will have an idea of what it is. “Blade Runner 2049” is very much Villeneuve’s vision – no hints of the film noir elements that made the first cut of Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner” one of my favorites. I don’t remember the exact minute I solved everything, but I remember that it was way, way before when the audience is reintroduced to former blade runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford). By then, Deckard isn’t half interesting.
But what may keep people in the seats are the visuals. Cinematographer and Villeneuve collaborator Roger Deakins lenses bleak landscapes, a radioactive wasteland and a rainy Los Angeles without a flaw. Large, holographic women actually seem approachable as K interacts with all forms of Joi. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to keep an interest in a plot with such little pull and so much punchless acting. Leto’s performance – more like a fancy cameo – is stale and not authentic. His Niander is more of a robot than of a man. Speaking of androids, Gosling’s acting is close to that of Michael Fassbender’s takes in the recent “Alien” prequels. While his wooden performance is fitting for a corporate product, it can be painful to watch. Has Scott, who serves as an executive producer here, trying to destroy the two beloved vehicles for the sake of bloated movies and more money?
Just wait for 2049 to come if you want to see the future. By then “Blade Runner 2049” will actually end.
1.5 out of 5 stars
Ridley Scott’s visionary “Blade Runner” has achieved legendary status in the 35 years since its underwhelming release. Now its long-awaited follow-up, “Blade Runner 2049,” this time under the creative direction of Denis Villeneuve, tries to replicate its predecessor’s dystopian atmosphere and thematic depth. But the sequel only partially passes the test.
“Blade Runner 2049” is a feast for the senses, with spectacular visuals and dazzling cinematography. But the sci-fi sequel is not as deep or emotional as the original. Its long run time and plodding pace try the audience’s patience.
The sequel is set three decades after the events of “Blade Runner.” In a still-grimy Los Angeles, police officer K (Ryan Gosling) is a blade runner who hunts down replicants – genetically engineered androids that look just like humans. Newer, more obedient models of replicants can move around freely in society. But the older, harder-to-control models are targeted for “retirement,” or extermination.
When K uncovers a secret that threatens the world’s future, the blade runner finds himself in the middle of conflicting interests. His commanding officer, Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright), orders K to do whatever it takes to prevent the secret from getting out. Meanwhile, creepy genius Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), the head of the corporation that makes replicants, wants to get his hands on the secret.
As K himself becomes the hunted, he starts to question his existence as he knows it. His investigation leads him to Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), the hard-boiled blade runner from the original film.
“Blade Runner 2049” showcases breathtaking landscapes and stunning special effects. The film still utilizes the night-engulfed LA streetscapes, this time with colorful, virtual billboards that can reach out and touch you. But the sequel allows in the rays of daylight during K’s search for the truth, helping to lift the curtain on what’s real and what’s not. Roger Deakins’ cinematography expertly plays with shadows and light.
“Blade Runner 2049” continues to explore the themes of humanity, artificiality and identity established in the original. But while the 1982 film dives deep into questions such as what does it mean to be human, “Blade Runner 2049” doesn’t go deep enough. After a 35-year gap between films, “Blade Runner 2049” doesn’t incite new ideas like its influential predecessor as much as it rehashes ideas from properties that came after.
K’s virtual girlfriend, Joi (a terrific performance by Ana de Armas), drives an intriguing storyline about whether artificial intelligence can transcend its programming. But a love scene involving the two is too reminiscent of 2013’s AI romance “Her.” The potential of artificial creations to reach consciousness also sounds like the storyline in HBO’s hit series “Westworld.”
“Blade Runner 2049” features mostly great performances by its talented cast, but an uneven amount of screen time. As K, this is Gosling’s show. The sensitive Gosling gradually opens up as he strives to solve not only the case he’s assigned to work on, but his own origins. Ford looks right at home as the tough but vulnerable Deckard, but he’s not in the film long enough. When the two are onscreen together, they make a fun pair.
The sequel lacks complex villains like Rutger Hauer’s sympathetic replicant Roy Batty. The disappointing Leto shows up briefly to deliver mostly monologues, and nothing along the lines of the famous “tears in the rain” speech. His right-hand replicant, the ultra-violent Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), is the film’s closest thing to a villain, but she’s given little motivation.
At nearly three hours, there’s not enough substance in “Blade Runner 2049” to justify its run time. It plays more like a lumbering police procedural. While “Blade Runner” thrives on ambiguity, the sequel includes plot holes that detract from its story. A reveal in the final act may make audiences feel like the rug was pulled out from beneath them.
“Blade Runner 2049” is worth seeing for fans of the 1982 classic, but it doesn’t measure up to the original model.
3 out of 5 stars