Visually Stunning, but a Long Time Running
The original Blade Runner, released in 1982, was a groundbreaking film that masterfully weaved elements from science fiction, detective stories, and even philosophy. It is considered a classic today and any attempts at a return to that material whether it be a sequel or reboot were undoubtedly going to have huge expectations to meet. So when Blade Runner 2049 was announced with Ryan Gosling as the lead, Harrison Ford reprising the role he made famous, and virtuoso filmmaker, Denis Villeneuve directing, any skepticism quickly turned to excitement. Unfortunately, the movie-going experience of the film did not live up to its hype as the slow pacing and needlessly long running time undermine amazing the visuals, sounds, and performances.
The Blade Runner franchise takes place in the near future where humans have developed the ability to artificially create synthetic humans called “replicants”. These replicants look and act like humans except that they have been physically enhanced to serve as slave labor and designed to obey human commands. Not every replicant remains obedient and those that escape or rebel are “retired” by a group that tracks them down. Members of this group are called “blade runners”, who are often replicants themselves.
The main character in this film, K, (Ryan Gosling, La La Land, 2016), is a blade runner who we first encounter flying to a remote and huge farming facility. K is searching for a long-escaped replicant named Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista, Guardians of The Galaxy 2, 2017) who he finds at his home, living as a farmer. After a violent struggle, K is able to retire the much larger replicant, but as he prepares to fly home, he notices an unusual dirt patch under a tree with a flower on top. He calls his human supervisor to report that he found and “retired” the target and comments on the odd dirt patch, which is dug up.
K’s home is a grimy, rainy Los Angeles, which looks like Times Square with even larger skyscrapers surrounding it. K lives in a small, spartan-like apartment within a massive tower that he shares with his beautiful girlfriend, Joi (Ana de Armas, War Dogs, 2016). Although they have a loving and playful relationship, Joi is revealed to be just an artificial intelligence program that can develop her own personality and memories and appears as a hologram to K. This relationship may remind viewers of the films Her and Ex Machina and are arguably the best scenes in the film (along with the panning shots of K traveling in his ship and exploring a futuristic LA).
While enjoying his time off with his girlfriend, K receives a call from his boss to come to the station as a skeleton was found in the suspicious dirt patch that he recently spotted. K and his supervisor, Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright Penn, Wonder Women, 2017) examine the remains and determine that the body was a woman who died in childbirth, but was, in fact, a replicant. This discovery is shocking as replicants should not be able to produce children. K is instructed to find all traces of this child and its father who they suspect is Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford, The Force Awakens, 2015). K must destroy them as this news could upset the order of things. Meanwhile, the Wallace Corporation, which has resumed creating obedient replicants, has uncovered this breakthrough as well. This shadowy company, headed by the creepy Niander Wallace (Jared Leto, Suicide Squad, 2016) wants to find this mystery child too as its secrets could unlock the potential to vastly expand replicant production and create more slave labor. The rest of the film focuses on the two factions, K and the Wallace Corporation racing to solve the mystery behind this missing child and its father.
This action, drama, sci-fi and fantasy film is visually impressive and sounds great throughout the film. The special effects are fantastic and the futuristic world building is quite the spectacle. This is a testament to the collaboration of veteran cinematographer, Roger Deakins, and the talent of director Denis Villeneuve. Villeneuve gained critical acclaim for his films Sicario, where he displayed his ability to mix action and suspense, and his reputation grew with his next film Arrival, where he showed his knack for sci-fi.
Gosling’s performance is impressive as well. Although he is in his late thirties now, he often plays youthful and immature characters, but here, he embodies a grizzled detective well. He is asked to do a lot of non-verbal acting as well (probably too much), but is well-suited in the role Ford, whose character is somewhat of a mystery, returns to his role with ease, although he has less screen time than fans of the original will probably like. While most of the supporting cast is solid, Leto’s character is simply over the top. Whether he chose to ham it up, or was directed to play his character this way, his scenes are too hard to make sense of. Unfortunately, Leto’s character is central to much of the plot in many ways, and his overly complex scenes make the rest of the film difficult to follow. This problem exacerbates the long running time of the film because any movie will feel like an eternity if you don’t know the character’s motivations after such a long time commitment.
Ordinarily, having an Academy Award nominated director, the screenwriter from the original film and Ridley Scott (director of Blade Runner) overseeing as executive producer should be a winning combination. But in this case, the film just needs an editor that can help lop off about 30 minutes of footage to let the movie shine through.
Bottom Line: Blade Runner 2049 is commendable for its visually stunning shots and stellar performances, but it is simply too long and confusing to be considered a classic like the original.
Credits: Written by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green: Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Cast: Ryan Gosling (K), Harrison Ford (Rick Deckard), Ana de Armas (Joi), Slyvia Hoeks (Luv), Robin Wright (Lt. Joshi), Jared Leto (Niander Wallace)
Studio: Warner Brothers
Running Time: 163 minutes
Jessica DeLong © October 7, 2017