BLADE RUNNER 2049 picks up 30 years after its predecessor, “Blade Runner” which starred Harrison Ford, Sean Young, and Rutger Hauer in one of his best roles ever. The original, based on the science-fiction king Phillip K. Dick’s novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” was so novel in its day that it created a cult following, highly anticipating this sequel. “2049” continues the premise of rogue “replicants” (artificial humans) who need to be “retired” (killed), but this time it’s Ryan Gosling who’s the LAPD Officer, “K,” aka the assassin. If you’re wondering whether or not you need to see the 1982 version first, the answer is a definitive yes!
This will be a completely spoiler-free review as I do not want to give ANY plot points or twists away. “2049” is dark and foreboding as it looks into the future of mankind, possibly predicting what we have done to our environment, our world. We see snow in L.A. The water levels have risen, and any sort of plant life is all but extinct. Protein farming (aka bugs) and synthetic food is the mainstay. Humans have fled earth to go “Off World.” As you watched the original film, taking place in 2019, you can’t help but wonder how much of this new film will be an accurate prediction of our coming world.
The entire 2 hours and 43 minutes experience is dark and misty, void of color and light, creating a feeling of hopelessness as we query what it means to be human. The social relevance cannot be overlooked as there is discussion of “purity” of humankind and “a wall.” Pondering these issues is at the core of the film as we become acquainted with “K” and his life and goals. Finding answers to perplexing riddles of humanity takes “K” and the viewers down a forbidden and foreboding path filled with dangers lurking at every corner. The film has all the markings of a great sequel, but the emotion of the film, unfortunately, falls flat.
The true stars of the “2049” are the special effects and Harrison Ford who returns as “Deckard.” Technology has come a long way in filmmaking since 1982, the release year of the original “Blade Runner” and without this, “2049” would have little to hold on to. (The studio has asked not to have any of these effects revealed in reviews in order to allow viewers to experience them first-hand.) These visually interesting scenes wake us up from a plot that seems lost in the darkness of the film, but many of these effects seem unnecessary as they really have little to do with driving the story forward. It’s not until Ford becomes more of a focal point, that “2049” finally picks up the pace and the interest level. And for those of you who enjoyed the religious symbolism in the first film, there’s plenty more, most of it quite obvious, in “2049.”
Gosling is the perfect leading man in films like “Crazy, Stupid, Love” and “The Notebook,” but he’s just not strong enough to carry “2049.” His robotic characterization of “K” neither connects us to him nor entertains us. This rather dull performance can’t maintain our interest in a 2 hour and 43 minute film. Thankfully, from the ashes of the first half of the film, Ford brings new life to “2049.” His performance is exactly what we expect and need to resuscitate the story. His energy and depth of character immediately connects us to him. Writers Hampton Fancher and Michael Green also bring a Daryl Hannah “Pris” type of character into this new version with Mackenzie Davis portraying “Mariette,” the long, lanky blonde with jester-like make-up. She, like Hannah, gives us a moment of intrigue, but her screen time is quite limited. Jared Leto, always an interesting character, plays Niander Wallace, the new corporate leader who is simply heartless. Robin Wright has such potential, but her role and dialogue are simply stunted, never allowing her to shine. While the musical score is every bit as important in this sensory film, it is frequently overpowering and heavy-handed, sometimes obliterating a scene.
“Blade Runner 2049” cinematically does shine, but it’s not all about the camera. It’s about the story and the story falls short. Gosling’s lackluster performance is a wrench in the system and not even the talented and charismatic Harrison Ford can completely save the film. That’s not to say this sequel isn’t worth seeing in the theater. In fact, if you see it, that’s the only way to do it. It’s big. The effects are even bigger and the music, while it’s overpowering, allows you to experience the movie in a visceral way. The topics and questions it brings to mind are well-worth discussing, but if you wanted originality and an captivating story, you’re out of luck.
2 1/2 Stars