Cast: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Robin Wright, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Jared Leto, Dave Bautista, Edward James Olmos, Mackenzie Davis
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Running time: 2 hours 43 minutes
by Jericho Cerrona
The influence Ridley Scott's 1982 iconic science fiction landmark has had on various forms of media over the last 35 years-- from films, animation, graphic novels, fashion, architecture etc--cannot be undersold. As an extension of Philip K. Dick's novel "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?", Blade Runner tapped into ideas of what it means to be human, the role artificial intelligence has on the future of mankind, and created a cult fanbase who passionately argued over whether or not Harrison Ford's neo-noir detective, Rick Deckard, was infact a replicant. But the one unarguable factor which remains crucial to its appeal was the visual realization of a dystopian future filled with floating neon signs, sterile skyscrapers shrouded in fog, and rain-drenched cityscapes, all set to a brilliant atmospheric synth score by Vangelis.
Enter director Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Arrival) with Blade Runner 2049; an attempt at paying homage to Scott's original vision while moving things forward some 30-odd years, opening up the scope a bit, and tying up some of the mysteries from the first film while generating new ones. In terms of visual grandeur, legendary DP Roger Deakins allows for some gorgeous sights; with CGI-enhanced environments and elaborately constructed sets merging together seamlessly. However, like Scott's original, Blade Runner 2049 is lifeless on a dramatic level, and its narrative deficiencies are compounded in this case since Villeneuve feels the need to stretch out what, at best, is a 90-minute story into a 163-minute dystopian wank. Truthfully, Villeneuve has been guilty of self-important ponderousness before (here's looking at you, Enemy), but he really outdoes himself here by only half engaging with the philosophical themes on display; instead choosing to noodle around with mood and atmosphere as a means to an end.
The story this time out involves Ryan Gosling's officer, "K" as he goes in search of older-model rogue androids. The central question of the first film---is Deckard human or machine?--is toyed with slightly here in regards to Gosling's stoic officer, but the actual meat of the narrative involves a lost child, a female skeleton with a mysterious serial number, and a diabolical slave scheme formed by blind demigod creator, Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) of the Wallace Corporation, formerly Tyrell Corp. There's a no-nonsense commander (Robin Wright, with slicked back hair in House of Cards mode), a kick-ass replicant on a war path (Dutch model Sylvia Hoeks, who actually gives the film's best performance), a fantasy hologram girlfriend (Ana de Armas), and yes, Harrison Ford reprising his role as Deckard. Mostly, though, the narrative twists and turns take a back seat to impressive visual scale and purposefully languid pacing. Clearly, Villeneuve is going for something of Tarkovsky's existential sense of despair or Kubrick's detached coldness, which makes sense in a world filled with androids, sleek corporations, and lack of human intimacy. It also fits in with Scott's template of world-building, only now, the planet is simply foggier, rainier, and more desolate. But 1982's Blade Runner also had Rutger Hauer and Daryl Hannah as unhinged baddies, which smoothed over some of the film's more plodding elements. There was a vamping sleaziness to their scenes together that Villeneuve's film completely lacks. Only Leto's fleshy-eyed guru draped in a killer bath robe comes close to approximating a jolt of energy, only he isn't onscreen enough to truly go off the rails. Like everything else in the film, his impact is mostly cosmetic.
Gosling plays K in the typical Gosling mode of unemotive stoicism. While superficially spot-on casting, the effect of the actor's "robot-like" demeanor actually backfires here and verges into self-parody, as one half expects him to slip into SNL-style giggles as Villeneuve slowly zooms in on his blank expression. Much more interesting is the inclusion of a tangential female character (a creator of dreams trapped inside a white sterile compound) who may hold the key to the film's philosophical mysteries. Sadly, however, Blade Runner 2049 is all about the boys. Women are either portrayed as sexualized play things, rogue brutes, or expendable slaves in the service of rugged men wandering the lonely wasteland of greater Los Angeles. This vision of the future could have been fascinating if Villeneuve had explored gender politics or commented on the patriarchal society (i.e. Mad Max: Fury Road), but the film spends its time and energy elsewhere, like tedious shots of Gosling walking slowly through junk yards or springing ineffective callbacks to the original movie.
Blade Runner 2049 is without a doubt visually spectacular, with isolated images giving off a rush of cinematic awe, but the film's aesthetic is all smoke and mirrors (smoke and mirrors shot brilliantly by Deakins, of course), but a fabricated mirage nonetheless. For us to become invested, to care about the central questions posed here (which have been investigated over the last 35 years more successfully in films like A.I. and Ex-Machina), there must be more going on than technical mastery. Diehard Blade Runner fans will claim there is more going on, and that the detached lack of emotion and drama is partially the point, but Villeneuve's take on the material plays more like the ultimate fan-film than something willing to take things into new and weird directions. Ultimately, the director's fondness for a slow dystopian wank means Blade Runner 2049 drones on with self-important bombast into the rain-drenched netherworld of franchise filmmaking, even as Hans Zimmer's predictably rumbling score "waaahs" us into a slumber of boredom. Maybe in the next 35 years, one of these morose replicants will be implanted with a memory of how to crack a joke.