New Review: 'Blade Runner 2049' (2017)
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana De Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Jared Leto, Mackenzie Davis, David Bautista, Elarica Johnson, Wood Harris, and Edward James Olmos
There really is no reason for Blade Runner: 2049 to work as well as it does. Interesting and seemingly pivotal characters are underutilized and given no payoff, and the film’s central mystery grows less interesting the more we learn about it. Whereas the climax for the original movie was not only chillingly atmospheric but surprisingly thoughtful as well (the “tears in the rain” monologue delivered by Rutger Hauer is pure gold), the climax here is visually messy and kind of generic. Most frustrating of all is that although this movie runs on for 164 minutes, there’s very little payoff in the end. The first movie can stand as its own movie. I don’t think that this movie really can.
In terms of story, I found Blade Runner: 2049 pretty underwhelming, and yet I still find myself recommending the movie on the strength of its atmospheric visuals, the performances, and a number of haunting individual scenes. The Los Angeles here looks like it did the original film, but thanks to the eyegasmically beautiful cinematography by Roger Deakins (who is long overdue for an Oscar), the movie has a unique and spell-binding visual glow. Some of the most intoxicating scenes take place in an abandoned futuristic Las Vegas, which is filmed in harsh yet bewitching reds and oranges, but the film’s opening set, a ghostly white synthetic farm with an eerie leafless tree out in the front, is quite stunning as well.
The movie stars Ryan Gosling as K, a new brand of replicant that’s absent the old brand’s lifespan restrictions. He works for the police department, hunting down and “retiring” the still remaining older model replicants out there. In the film’s opening scene, he visits the farm of an older replicant named Sapper Morton (an imposing Dave Bautista) and tries to bring him into custody peacefully (as if!). After a brutal fight with Morton ensues and K takes control of the situation, he investigates the area and finds a box buried underneath the tree that contain the skeletal remains of a woman who died in child birth.
He takes the remains back to his precinct and shows them to his boss Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright), and there they discover something quite astonishing: the remains belonged to an older model replicant, which is bizarre because replicants were never supposed to reproduce. Since news of the child’s birth might cause an uprising with the replicants, K is tasked to find out if the child is still alive, and if he/she is, then kill it. His investigation leads him to the headquarters of the Tyrell Corporation (the place where replicants are made), which is now under the control of the creepy, blind mogul Niander Wallace (a terrific Jared Leto). When Wallace discovers that an older replicant managed to give birth, he sends his henchwoman Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) out to find the child before K does.
The film is filled with sequences so haunting and evocative that it’s easy to forgive the fact that the story just isn’t that engaging. The film’s most disturbing and unforgettable scene involves the birth of a female replicant, who’s murdered not too long after by Wallace once he realizes that she can’t reproduce. Another standout sequence involves a fight between K and Deckard (Harrison Ford) in a darkly-lit club that plays holographic performances of Elvis and Marilyn Monroe in the background.
The best scenes are the ones that explore the humanity of the film’s lead K and his holographic girlfriend Joi (Ana De Armas). In an earlier scene, K buys her a software update that allows her to travel outside of their apartment, which leads to a particularly lovely moment where she stands out on the roof of their apartment and feels drops of rain on her body for the very first time. The film’s most hypnotic and surreal scene comes when Joi invites a replicant hooker (Mackenzie Davis) into their apartment and uses her as a way of seducing K in some bizarre three-way. This scene cannot be described without making it sound silly. What can be said is that I’ve never seen anything like this scene in a movie before. You just have to see it for yourself.
There is more to the story than what I’ve already written, but I would rather talk about the film’s look and individual moments more because they did a better job in keeping me invested than the film’s plot. Denis Villeneuve is such an exciting and crazy talented filmmaker that even when he’s involved in a movie that I’m not particularly fond of (like 2015’s Sicario), I’m always fascinated by his work. There may be visual similarities between this film and Ridley Scott’s original, yet Villeneuve has such a unique and thrilling way of making movies that even the seemingly familiar sights feel new in his hands.
Credit must also be given to the team of art directors, set decorator Alessandra Querzola, and production designer Dennis Gassner and their extraordinary work, which is complimented by Roger Deakins (seriously, give the man an Oscar already!) and Han Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch’s jarring musical score. When I look back on this film, I’ll definitely remember the futuristic cityscapes with giant advertising boards, the creepy statues of naked women on the outskirts of Las Vegas, the sad moment where K sees a giant holographic advertisement for the Joi line, and the many other scenes already mentioned in this review.
The performances are all very good, which is a testament to the talent of the cast, given that they weren’t given engaging material to work with. It is frustrating that at almost three hours, Blade Runner: 2049 never really hooked me with its plot. Sometimes, though, a movie can win you over just by the way that it’s made, and this movie is so well-made and wondrous to behold that it really doesn’t need a good plot to work. It’s rare to find a movie like that, but Blade Runner: 2049 is that kind of film.
Final Grade: *** (out of ****)
Rated R for violence, disturbing images, some sexual content, nudity, and language.