Monday, October 2, 2017

Blade Runner 2049

Good news, bad news. Blade Runner 2049 isn't as good as the original. It's also far better than I expected from a sequel no one really ever wanted to see made. While I'd expect the initial reception to be better than the original Blade Runner, the sequel's plot does have serious plot holes which multiple viewings are likely to further expose.

Set 30 years after the first film (coinciding with the similar gap between the original and the sequel), the world still has plenty of runaway replicants which need to be found and retired. While Deckard (Harrison Ford) has long-since disappeared, the role of our main Blade Runner this time around is played by Ryan Gosling.

Director Denis Villeneuve offers a visually interesting film with several nods to Blade Runner. While the story is more complicated than necessary, and requires characters to ignore specific questions which seem obvious to ask, K's (Gosling) journey and the mystery he's tasked to solve does keep things on track (even if Villeneuve gets stuck multiple times dragging out shots and scenes for the visual style long after the plot has been satisfied).

The film is ambitious both it terms of its style and message. That said, the former is better represented than the later which gets a bit heavy-handed at times when characters discuss slavery in general and the role of replicants specifically. And remember how rain was important in the original in one crucial scene? Screenwriters Hampton Fancher and Michael Green sure do as they bend over backwards to fit in as many scenes as possible featuring rain and snow. Themes of mortality and humanity are played out once again by a mix of humans and replicants as our lead character navigates through both in his search for Deckard and a secret which could shock the world.

Aside from Gosling, it's the women of the film who turn out to be the real stand-outs. Ana de Armas is terrific as K's girlfriend Joi. K and Joi provide the most interesting relationship of the film and one of more pleasant surprises the sequel has to offer. Mackenzie Davis, Sylvia Hoeks, and Robin Wright all put in strong performances as characters who will play important roles in K's investigation while Jared Leto is nearly impossible to take seriously in stock-movie-villain mode as the head of what was once the Tyrell Corporation and who has a vested interest in K's search.

While the film's score is nearly completely forgettable, Blade Runner 2049 becomes the latest Hollywood film to overuse Inception's BRAAAM!-style sound blasts to over-emphasize important moments, reveals, and discoveries. More distracting than enhancing, particularly when the theater's sound system can't always properly handle them, it's a choice that isn't as effective as I'd like (while also making the film feel far more mainstream than it should). In terms of action, the best sequence is the one which opens the film and introduces us Deckard and an old-school replicant on the run.

While the film works on its own I'm not sure that in and of itself is enough to justify its existence. Blade Runner is a self-contained story which never demanded a sequel (and certainly not one more than three decades later). The sequel doesn't answer any lingering questions left over from the original, doesn't expand the world much further than what we saw in the first film, and (despite its set design) doesn't add much of intrinsic value to the franchise. Still, despite my issues with the movie, including its meandering plot, Blade Runner 2049 does succeed in providing a film that returns to this world with interesting new characters and new questions to ask while leaving the audience to make up their own minds about the broader questions it raises.

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