Okay, I guess I shouldn’t have had high expectations for Blade Runner: 2049 in the first place. After all, the original Blade Runner (1982), starring Harrison Ford and directed by Ridley Scott, is one of the greatest SFR films (yes, you read that right) of all time. Based on a short story by Phillip K. Dick, that film set the standard for futuristic film noir and broke cinematic and philosophical ground in so many ways we’re still talking about it.
I didn’t really expect the sequel, starring Ryan Gosling (and Harrison Ford—briefly) and directed by Denis Villeneuve (Arrival), to rise to the original’s level. But I did hope for an entertaining film that built on the original premise. I was disappointed.
My fault, though. I should have checked the directing credit. Villeneuve is the man responsible for last year’s Arrival, a glacial exercise in SF naval-gazing that critics loved, but left audiences scratching their heads. Villaneuve’s heavy hand is apparent in this film, too. BR:2049 is just under three hours long, most of which trundles along without a sign of Harrison Ford. If you ask me, Ford’s the only reason a sequel to Blade Runner makes any sense at all. But we don’t get to see what’s happened to Ford's original blade runner Rick Deckard until the film is well past its halfway point.
Villeneuve is also fond of slow, lingering shots of his actors. (If you saw Arrival, you know whereof I speak.) The problem here is that his main protagonist is an emotionless replicant named K. As played by Ryan Gosling, this human-looking cyborg has one expression no matter what is happening around him. Staring into his face looking for insight is pretty much a waste of time.
At least we can be grateful that the set design and artistic direction that were trademarks of the original film are not lost in this sequel. The future city of Los Angeles is just as bleak and rainy, the holographic ads just as ubiquitous, as in Ridley Scott’s cinematic masterpiece. These visions are nothing new, however. Hard to believe this film couldn’t improve over the special effects produced for the original some 35 years ago. The only addition in this film was a jaw-dropping scene of San Diego as a literal scrap heap of rusted junk. Kudos for that one.
Blade Runner was (and is) acclaimed not only for the way it was made, but for the things it had to say—about what it means to be human, about self-discovery, about love and loyalty. Those ideas weren’t exactly new in 1982, at least to any reader of science fiction, but they were expressed onscreen in a way that movie-goers at the time had never seen before. The 2017 sequel adds nothing new to the discussion of those ideas, but simply rehashes what has been said before, throwing in an improbable quasi-religious twist and some gratuitous torture porn (ick).
The original film had something else that this film lacks: enduring characters. Rick Deckard and his Rachel (Sean Young) were lovers whose love couldn’t possibly succeed; Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) was a villain you could almost cry for. They were unforgettable. They have no equivalent in BR:2049.
Yeah, I know I sound like a grumpy old curmudgeon, and almost every critic out there disagrees with me. But I insist films like this one need to be seen in context. Watch the original, and you’ll see there is no comparison. Better yet, stay home, read the short story, watch the original and save your money. This sequel is a No-Go.
IN OTHER NEWS
Congratulations to co-blogger Laurie Green and her partners in the Embrace the Romance: Pets in Space 2 anthology! Y’all are on fire, with sales and media attention galore! You go, girls!