The original Blade Runner is one of the finest motion pictures ever made, so the thought of Hollywood making a sequel 35 years later made my skin crawl. But color me surprised. While it pales in comparison, the sequel is actually far better than I would ever have imagined or hoped it could be. Ryan Gosling stars as an android Blade Runner, a cop who hunts down older models of androids who were originally created for slave labor, but escaped and tried to create lives off the grid. Without giving anything away, he stumbles into a mystery that has widereaching ramifications for the world around him, as well as a shattering impact on his very soul — if he has one. One of the film’s greatest strengths is that is delves headfirst into the age-old classic question that drives science-fiction: what is human? (Many college essays will be written.)
The mystery leads him to Harrison Ford, who played the Blade Runner in the original 1982 film. Before Ford arrives, Blade Runner 2049 is singularly focused on Gosling — his investigation and his relationship with a holographic lover (Ana de Armas). I love the relationship between android and hologram — I found it poignant and provocative, especially when they solicit the help of a flesh-and-blood woman to help them consumate their affections. Along sex/gender lines, the film later suggests that perhaps flesh-and-blood men are more like machines for falling prey to their sexual programming so easily. Now, that’s some juicy shit there, folks.
The film builds up to Harrison Ford almost like High Noon builds up to the arrival of Frank Miller — but that’s probably more because the audience knows Ford is in this movie somewhere, and it holds him back for a considerable amount of time. I loved the pretense given to the meeting between Ford and Gosling, their showdown, and I loved their spartan interaction with one another once they agree to sit down and talk. The movie’s pretty great up to that point.
And then I started losing interest. I’ll try to be somewhat vague, but if you’re averse to spoilers, stop reading now.
In the final act, a dreaded twist is thrown into the narrative that pokes a hole in my emotional investment of the movie. It’s meant to make Gosling’s character arc even more poignant. And it certainly leads to a great message that the world needs to hear. But it’s just not how I personally wanted this movie to go. Part of the reason I feel this way is because I liked Gosling’s character (and performance) so much, I just didn’t want the movie to treat him this way. I wanted a more emotionally satisfying ending, like what director Denis Villeneuve gave his previous film, Arrival. The twist also made me think less of another character that I didn’t want to think less about, and who I didn’t feel had enough screen time to warrant their involvement in such a dramatic twist (and it’s not Ford).
So the third act didn’t go the way I wanted. It’s still a good third act, and you may like it better than I did. My other criticisms are in comaparing the film to the original. It may be more emotionally engaging than the original, but it falls short in many other ways. Stylistically, it’s far less rich and detailed. Villeneuve often hides his backdrops and scenery in washes of fog and gradients of color, sticking to the now-trite orange and teal color palette. In 1982, Ridley Scott would fill the frame with so much opulent detail, you could watch the movie twelve times and still not see it all. 2049 looks striking, but different — possibly an attempt to keep the budget under control. Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch try hard to imitate Vangelis’ original soundtrack, but it’s not quite the same. Zimmer indulges in bass at predictable moments and lays in beds of ‘tinkle-pinkling’ just to fill a sonic void. It doesn’t sound as purposeful as it should.
And the story is surprisingly simplistic, probably an overreaction to criticisms of the original film. Part of the fun of that original film was hanging on for dear life in an alien world, trying to understand and make sense of things that felt so real, you knew it would be worth the effort trying to figure it all out. You don’t have to work nearly so hard in the sequel. That’s not a bad thing. It’s just the sort of thing people notice when you make a sequel to one of the greatest motion pictures ever made.
Solid performances from Gosling and Ford. Both men have opportunity to show range in the material. Sylvia Hoeks is a standout as a dangerous foe. Carla Juri is memorable in a cameo. With Robin Wright, Jared Leto, and Dave Bautista.
Academy Awards: Best Cinematography (Roger Deakins), Visual Effects
Oscar Nominations: Best Production Design, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing