Sometimes it’s hard to keep track of all the Harrison Ford ‘80s franchise reboots, “Blade Runner 2049” being the latest.
A sequel to the divisive 1982 Ridley Scott film that only achieved cult classic status over a long period of time. Oscar-nominated director Denis Villeneuve (“Sicario,” “Arrival”) attempts the impossible — to bridge the gap between the films, please die-hards and attract new fans to the franchise. A restrained visionary in the past, “Blade Runner 2049” is Villeneuve turned loose with imagination, resulting in a near three-hour sci-fi spectacle. Full disclosure, I wasn’t a fan of the original.
I recently watched the remastered version and the amount of technical mumbo jumbo thrown at the viewer, poor ‘80s special effects and inept performances, I struggled to finish to say the least. If “Blade Runner” was before its time (that film was set in 2019), “2049” debuts when the visual effects can actually deliver something impressive. The most interesting thing about the movie happened once the screening was over and the critics exited the theater.
Usually this is the paragraph where I vaguely describe the plot. The filmmakers and/or studio, pinpointed specific spoiler details, asking critics to avoid in their reviews. Sheets of paper were given to us exiting the screening, even going as far to suggest what to say in their writing. Apparently, Warner Bros. think critics/journalists are incapable of writing a synopsis without spoiling the films pretentious and closely guarded secrets.
“There’s an argument to be made that ‘Blade Runner 2049’ doesn’t actually require such careful handling,” said Eric Kohn, chief film critic and a senior editor for Indiewire. “The movie’s astonishing, textured vision of a bleak future, its jarring action sequences and moody exchanges contribute to its appeal far more than the various surprises of the story. Kohn, a fellow Broadcast Film Critics Association colleague, investigated the story, once I reached out to him explaining what happened during our local screening.
I’m not sure what makes “Blade Runner 2049” plot spoilers any more important than another franchise. On a side note, a real film critic would never offer plot spoilers in their review. That said, the film begins in 2049 where we meet “K” (Ryan Gosling), an integral part of the LAPD. His sole mission is to track down and expire “replicants” (machines that look like humans) from the previous age. His most recent assignment uncovers a miracle that his lieutenant (Robin Wright) says, “breaks the world” if word gets out.
The same problem plagues “Blade Runner 2049” that plagued the original, there is an emotional disconnect between the subject matter, characters and the visual achievement.
Sure, it looks impressive, if you’ve always wanted to see how disgusting Los Angeles and Southern California will look in the future when pollution and smog rule, you will be enthralled with the bleak artistry. The similarities between “Blade Runner 2049” and last year’s “Ghost in the Shell” are striking.
In fact, aside from the way this story is presented, the vehicles, action sequences and the digitally created world isn’t that different than handfuls of other science fiction films. Even Benjamin Wallfisch & Hans Zimmer’s score vastly mirrors Jóhann Jóhannsson’s work on “Arrival” (side note, Jóhannsson was the original composer here but left the project).
Gosling’s performance is leagues better than anything we saw in the original. Aside from his visual accomplishments, Villeneuve is an actor’s director, exacting the very best performances from those he works with. Yet in the end, this isn’t Villeneuve or the actors’ best work. An accomplishment for sure, but “Blade Runner” was never the general/mainstream crowd pleaser the studio is pretending it is.
Even the secretive plot they are so worried about being spoiled, before they recoup their investment, isn’t as groundbreaking as they are pretending. “Blade Runner 2049” is a well-studied sequel that merges the old with the new, the past with the present and should satisfy fans of the original.
Final Thought — Visually absorbing, emotionally detached, big budget Villeneuve not as impressive as restrained budget Villeneuve.