Mark Reviews Movies

Blade Runner 2049


2.5 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Ana de Armas, Robin Wright, Sylvia Hoeks, Harrison Ford, Mackenzie Davis, Carla Juri, Dave Bautista, Hiam Abbass, David Dastmalchian, Wood Harris, Barkhad Abdi

MPAA Rating: R (for violence, some sexuality, nudity and language)

Running Time: 2:43

Release Date: 10/6/17

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Review by Mark Dujsik | October 5, 2017

Admiration for Blade Runner 2049 begins with the design and execution of the movie's world, which uses the backdrop of its 1982 predecessor as a springboard to upgrade that vision, to look at it from different angles, and to expand the scope of this dystopian future. Unfortunately, admiration for this semi-spinoff/semi-sequel, for the most part, also ends with its world. There's a distinct vision here, one that's inspired but not necessarily limited by Ridley Scott's influential film, but the movie cannot escape the restrictions established by the characters, events, and, most importantly, ideas of Blade Runner.

This is, of course, to be expected of a sequel, which the movie most definitely is—except when it isn't. The central ideas are, again, the nature of being, the intentional confusion of what is "real" and what isn't, and whether the series' replicants (artificially engineered androids that look and behavior like humans) are "real" beings or, since they do not fit the established definition of life, akin to slaves.

Hampton Fancher and Michael Green's screenplays sets off to explore these ideas in a more distant future (the year 2049, naturally), in which the line between humans and replicants has been further muddied, and with new characters, who directly challenge the original film's themes. All of that is eventually thwarted, as the story tries to raise the ghosts of the past without finding a satisfying way to tie the two stories together.

The replicants of the future are basically the same, although they no longer have the previous models' lifespan restrictions or, apparently, Philosophy 101 program installed into their brain functions. As established within the first five minutes of the movie (Something that needs to be pointed out for the "spoiler"-phobic crowd), our hero is one of these new androids. He's "K" (Ryan Gosling), a cop, known as a blade runner, assigned to track down and "retire" any remnants of the older replicant models—ones that were made without the four-year death sentence installed into their programming. "K" doesn't have any moral quandaries to killing his own kind, since he seems to have been programmed without scruples (except for questioning whether killing a human would be the same thing, since humans are born and anything born would, in his thinking, have a soul) or a personality.

There's a plot, involving a skeleton found buried beneath a tree on a synthetic farm owned by one of the older replicants, but for a while, none of it really matters. The movie would rather explore this place and these ideas.

The place looks a bit like the Los Angeles of the original film's 2019 world, although our first encounter with the world takes place flying above the artificial farmland outside of the city, where tall, off-white spires rise from the desert with circular patterns surrounding them. A good portion of the movie takes place in these remote places, such as a vast garbage dump that used to be San Diego and the nuclear-ravaged remnants of Las Vegas, where statues of scantily clad women rise out of the orange haze, like monuments to a long-forgotten religion.

Indeed, our first glimpse of the city takes place far overhead, and from that angle, it looks just as flat as the countryside. That is until director Denis Villeneuve's camera slightly pans to one side, at which point we can peek into the valleys of city streets. Villeneuve has transformed this world into a puzzle of sorts, in which every new sight must, not only be seen, but also be interpreted to understand its nature. These aren't simply spectacular images of a ruined world (brought to that state by a mysterious electronic blackout that also helps to explain why "K" has to do all of his investigatory legwork). Villeneuve, cinematographer Roger Deakins, and the design and effects teams have created a world that functions—in ways that we may only comprehend on a vague level but that, somehow, we still understand.

The movie is frontloaded with sights and ideas, with the twist on our sympathies by having a replicant protagonist (This makes sense, since the first film was more intrigued by its artificial lifeforms than any real ones), a holographic partner (played by Ana de Armas) that is the only "person" to whom "K" has an attachment, and a look at the process of and philosophy behind the creation of replicants. The last one comes from Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), who has taken control of the company that built the androids. There's a haunting scene in which we see the entire life cycle of one replicant—from birth, out of a gooey canal, to violent death—in a matter of minutes. It also comes with a brief appearance by Carla Juri, playing an independent subcontractor (an amusing detail) who creates false memories for the replicants' comfort.

These concepts seem to be setting up something more significant. Ultimately, they merely tease an abundance of possibilities, which the movie ceases to explore once the nature of the plot's central mystery becomes the focus. Needless to say, "K" finds a reason to team up with Deckard (Harrison Ford), because the latter's past ties into the former's investigation. That's about all that is worth saying on the matter, since the final act of Blade Runner 2049 sacrifices its earlier ideas for action, hollow nostalgia, and uncharacteristic sentimentality.

Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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