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Blade Runner 2049

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It is dangerous work, making a sequel to a classic like Blade Runner, Ridley Scott’s 1982 magnum opus. French Canadian director Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 is a very good film, but it inevitably falls short of the original.

I first discovered Villeneuve’s work with his 2016 science fiction film Arrival (discussed with John Morgan here). Arrival impressed me as a highly imaginative science fiction film with an original visual style, told with an appealingly deliberate art-film pacing, with a stunning plot twist and a powerful emotional payoff. Villeneuve’s 2015 film Sicario is an excellent thriller/crime drama.

Blade Runner 2049 is more like Arrival than Sicario, and that is something of a problem. At 2 hours, 43 minutes, Blade Runner 2049 takes art-house pacing and style to Tarkovskyesque lengths. It is a real artistic gamble, and not an entirely successful one. I think this would have been a much more effective film — and yet also more commercial — if directed more like Sicario, i.e., edited down/sped up to 2 hours.

It would have been more like the original Blade Runner as well. I suspect, however, that Villeneuve may have rejected such a course because he felt intimidated by the prospect of doing a sequel that would invite too many comparisons with the original, so he struck out in a direction that would be more likely to please middlebrow critics and the sort of people who enjoy sitting through Solaris, Stalker, or 2001: A Space Odyssey. I generally like such movies, but I felt that Blade Runner 2049 runs out of steam near the end and fails to deliver the powerful emotional punch toward which it was building.

But this problem may have been inevitable, for there was probably no way of doing this movie without including Harrison Ford, and frankly, I wish they had done it without him, or pared his role down to a brief Yoda-like encounter in the second act, where he imparts some useful information to the questing knight and then is left behind.

I also wish they had replaced Ford with Ryan Gosling’s character for the third act, which would have eliminated all the gimpy appeals to nostalgia. I think a much more emotionally powerful conclusion could have been crafted with Gosling alone, for he undergoes the same transformation from egocentrism toward disinterestedness and detachment that Roy Batty does in the original. (I won’t explain this point, because it would entail spoilers, but watch the movie, and you will see what I mean.)

Gosling, frankly, is ten times the actor that Ford is. Gosling’s performance as K, a replicant and a Blade Runner, is stunningly subtle and sensitive, whereas Ford is capable of nothing but being a two-fisted, hard-drinking, crotchety old scene-chewer. Frankly, after he was on screen for 3 minutes, I wanted to run him through with a light saber. (Science fiction will not be safe until the entire casts of the original Star Wars and Star Trek are dead.)

I liked most of the other performances in Blade Runner 2049, particularly Ana de Armas as Joi, Sylvia Hoeks as Luv, and Carla Juri as Ana Stelline.

Jared Leto’s performance as the Mephistophelean businessman Niander Wallace doesn’t really compare to the original’s Eldon Tyrell, and frankly I don’t understand his behavior in the first act, when he casually kills a new replicant while monologuing. Nor does his behavior seem rational in the third act. If Rachel gave birth to a child, and Wallace can create a whole new Rachel, and he has Deckard, then he has both parents. So why does he need the child? Can’t he discover the secret of replication reproduction with the parents alone? And if the child really is a “miracle” — an event that we can’t replicate with natural causes — then even if he had her, there’s nothing he could do.

In short, the basic problem with this move is the script. Which is a pretty big problem.

The script also lacks the poetry and mythic dimension of the original, which is not just a sci-fi dystopia but an allegory about Satan’s rebellion against God — see my essay on this topic here — whereas here we just catch glimpses of a Marxist revolt of the masses, which is a myth as well, in the superficial sense of the word.

The film touches on the same issues of personal identity as the original, but does not add any depth to them.

Blade Runner 2049 extrapolates from the dystopia of the original, incorporating ecological elements from Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. But other updates make no sense, such as the vast orphanage where predominantly white children dig through garbage. Isn’t this replicant work? And where are all these white orphans coming from? It doesn’t make sense that there are lots of surplus white children on an ecologically devastated planet.

The visual style of Blade Runner 2049 is stunning. Of course it is based on the original, but it develops it in interesting and original ways. It is truly the most successful element of the film. Like Terrence Malick, Villeneuve underscores the fact that cinema is inescapably a visual medium. Unfortunately, also like Malick, he also underscores the fact that a good movie needs to be more than just a series of striking images.

The music by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch effectively incorporates Vangelis’ original themes, but what is new is not memorable.

What this all seems to add up to is: Blade Runner 2049 is a superficial movie, but it is still successful as such. It held my attention for 2 hours and 43 minutes, but it lacked a powerful emotional payoff. It is good, but it could have been so much better. Still, it is definitely a movie that I will watch again, in the hope of glimpsing something deeper. I recommend it to fans of Blade Runner and science fiction aficionados in general. Take in a matinee with friends, then go out to dinner. I guarantee you will discuss nothing else.

 

 

 

 

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8 Comments

  1. John Morgan
    Posted October 19, 2017 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    This review pretty closely mirrors my own response to the film, although concerning this: ‘If Rachel gave birth to a child, and Wallace can create a whole new Rachel, and he has Deckard, then he has both parents. So why does he need the child? Can’t he discover the secret of replication reproduction with the parents alone? And if the child really is a “miracle” — an event that we can’t replicate with natural causes — then even if he had her, there’s nothing he could do.’

    Wallace can produce a replicant that looks like Rachel, but we know that he can’t reproduce her exactly since he even gets her eye color wrong. So presumably Wallace has no idea what it was about Rachel that allowed her to bear a child. However, we know he suspects that it wasn’t just a miracle, and that it was something Tyrell had come up with, since he refers to the birth as “Tyrell’s final trick.” He doesn’t seem very interested in examining Deckard when he finally captures him, so apparently he believes that whatever it was that Tyrell did that allowed Rachel to give birth could only be determined by examining the child. Although this is a little strange…since replicants are designed, presumably whatever was special about Rachel, assuming it wasn’t a miracle, and since Wallace acquires Rachel’s remains early on in the film, presumably he could examine the genetic code left in the remains and figure out what was different about her.

    But ok, let’s presume that Wallace did this and still wasn’t able to find out what it was, so finding the child is the only chance he has left to figure it out. That’s logical. But what is illogical is why he cares in the first place. Apparently producing huge amounts of replicants is the only way for humans to fully colonize space in this reality, but it’s only by enabling replicants to give birth that they can achieve this, since they can’t produce enough in Wallace’s factories to fulfill their needs. Humanity has mastered interstellar travel but they can’t make enough replicants?This rang hollow for me.

    Also, how does Wallace know whether or not the child inherited all of the qualities that make replicants special and valuable in the first place? Since it has a human father, perhaps she’s just an ordinary human, in which case finding it is irrelevant to his aims. Unless just increasing human reproduction would do the trick, in which case it would make more sense to just increase the human birthrate rather than involve replicants at all. But then that’s obviously not an issue since, as you pointed out, they already have Dickensesque factories full of orphans doing manual labor who could be exported offworld.

    So, all in all, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. At least in the original, everyone’s motives made sense – the replicants sought freedom from tyranny and death, and Tyrell wanted to figure out how to control them better so that he could manufacture a more reliable product.

    Still, 2049 is an interesting reversal of the premise of the original – instead of being about a human who finds out she’s a replicant, the sequel is about a replicant who finds out it might be human. Which was interesting, even if it wasn’t explored as fully as it could have been.

  2. Posted October 16, 2017 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    An overall lousy movie. Too damn long, too damn boring. I liked seeing that Somali actor Barkad Abdi still is gainfully employed in the film industry. That just goes to show to all these self important drama school types that their job can be done by a person with zero training who was working at his brothers cell phone kiosk in a Minneapolis mall before hitting it big.

  3. Nestor
    Posted October 9, 2017 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    So I just viewed it.

    In the past, I’ve often agreed with the Counter-Currents reviewer (e.g., I strongly concurred with his praise of Jurassic World and Passengers, both of which were excellent films — indeed, two of my all-time favorites).

    But in this case, I must say that I had the opposite reaction to the movie than the recommendation offered above. I only agree that it goes on for far too long, in a way that mars its basic entertainment value.

    But there’s much more that I loathed about it.

    The plot is indeed rehashed, shopworn Marxism, in a way that is way too on-the-nose even for the typical Leftism of Hollywood.

    I disagree about Gosling’s acting. I found it very flat and one-note. (Yes, I realize that he is performing the “reduced emotional response” of the replicant, but still, most of his expressions in the film are one and the same: a sad puppy-dog look in the eyes. That gets real old real quick.)

    The retconning that this film does to the original movie is unforgivable, diminishing an infinitely superior work in ways that rival Lucas’s tampering with his original trilogy.

    The new pseudo-Tyrell is a trite waste of a villain, another flat, one-note performance, and a character who doesn’t actually do much, apart from a gratuitous knifing scene and a pro-slavery speech, both of which are Snidley-Whiplash-worthy moments that basically announce, “Hey, look at how eeeevil I am.” What a come down from the far more interesting original Tyrell.

    Even the storied visuals of this film I find to be overrated, especially in comparison with the first movie.

    But one particular aspect of the film utterly ruined it for me:

    [spoilers ahead]

    This movie has only one sympathetic character, and she is very sympathetic indeed: the hologram girl that is Gosling’s erstwhile girlfriend. I loved her character, and found the performance by the actress to be engaging and endearing. She is dressed prettily and behaves in a very feminine manner, much like a traditional homemaker. She is vulnerable, graceful, and truly cares for Gosling, in the way a devoted young wife might care about her husband, if our world were still as it should be, and not a Cultural Marxist dystopia. Basically, she is the kind of character that is all but banned by Hollywood, these days.

    So what happens? She is killed halfway through.

    That would have been bad enough to have ruined the film for me, given that she was, as I said, the only character I cared the least bit about; so when she was gone, I had no more interest in the movie.

    But what’s worse is that subsequently, the film defiles her character by implying that she was just a manufactured commodity, and had only been agreeable to Gosling and cared about him because she had been programmed that way. Basically, the movie draws its Marxist, anti-feminine theme in crayon: “See? See? The traditional homemaker of the ’50s was just a product of ‘false consciousness.’ [ugh] Only when each member of the proletariat sacrifices himself for the Revolution is he doing something authentic.”

    I think CCCP cinema would have been embarrassed to wallow in paint-by-numbers anti-traditional-femininity propaganda that way.

    Not for me, thanks.

  4. dolph
    Posted October 9, 2017 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    This is a stunning and gut wrenching film, which builds up hope and then brings it crashing down. For that, I think the film did the best it could possibly do.
    I cannot help but to stand in awe of this movie.

  5. Nestor
    Posted October 7, 2017 at 4:27 am | Permalink

    I don’t know if this is true, but I’ve heard that this film changed-up the main female replicant from the appealingly soft, gentle, and feminine Rachel of the first film to a more feminist-approved “strong woman” character. (Barf)

    Again, just something I’ve heard, as I’ve not yet seen the film, but if that is the case, then that would be a source of extreme distaste on my part, and the movie would have to be very good otherwise to make up for it.

    • Jules
      Posted October 8, 2017 at 9:17 am | Permalink

      The main female replicant in this film is a strong woman. But she’s also ruthless and heartless.

      There’s a scene where she’s getting her nails done while she guides missiles down onto people trying to attack K, and I can’t help but be reminded of the Hillary Clinton-esque religious cult leader from the movie Babylon A.D. where she’s having facial surgery done right before she makes a propaganda telecast.

      If it makes you feel better she’s no lovable figure. And is almost a repudiation of the narrow-minded feminist view of a strong woman.

      Ironically, the whore and the A.I. woman, Joi, are the most attractively feminine characters in the movie. It’s almost as if Society has been so degraded…

      Which leads me on to another point that the white children toiling away in the orphanage under the merciless rule of an aging black Headmaster… Yes that’s technically replicant work but everybody and their environment has been degraded even as technology scales inexorably upwards.

      People literally eat bugs. The slavery of the genetically engineered humans has inevitably leaked over on to what kind of appears to be a dwindling un-engineered human population!

      And when the glimpse of the Marxist Revolt happens, it’s not even some glorious thing. It’s dreadful! You got the horrifying sense that it will be a Slaughter and pull everybody further down the black hole…

      An offer is made to join the Revolt in the same ruthless fashion that the LAPD, Niander Wallace, and his hench woman pursue their own ends.

      K rejects the bloodthirsty revolutionaries, just as he rejects Wallace and his own LAPD. In the end he rejects all the degradation and embraces life and love and demonstrates how he too has a soul. And I think that’s the *literally* transcendent message here.

    • Ray P
      Posted October 9, 2017 at 5:07 am | Permalink

      It seems the film’s makers have returned to Dick’s more misogynistic view of women; in Androids Dream, Rachael Rosen is secretly working against Deckard, seducing to weaken him, and viciously kills his beloved pet goat. Not soft, gentle or nice

      • Nestor
        Posted October 9, 2017 at 10:15 am | Permalink

        By misogynistic you mean accurate.

        “Rosen”? PKD actually gave her the last name “Rosen”? Interesting . . .

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