By Ryan Keating-Lambert
Blade Runner 2049 is an ambitious and visionary sequel, but lacks when it comes to real substance.
Young blade runner ‘K’ (Ryan Gosling) stumbles across mysterious replicant (artificial human) remains and a secret that corporate giant Wallace (Jared Leto) would kill for. K is then forced to track down original blade runner Deckard (Harrison Ford) to get some answers.
Director Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Prisoners) has managed to deliver another outstanding vision of science-fiction after the Oscar nominated Arrival last year. Blade Runner 2049 delivers on all accounts where emotion and atmosphere is concerned. The hypnotic gloom-ridden visuals and flawless cinematography by the great Roger Deakins, also responsible for Villeneuve’s Sicario and Prisoners, paint a gorgeous and wholly encompassing canvas that stays with you long after leaving the cinema.
Deakins, along with production designer Dennis Gassner, have produced a piece of visual poetry that is on par with the original Blade Runner as well as furthering Villeneuve’s unique ‘back to basics’ and minimalist vision of science fiction which we saw in the remarkable Arrival.
But unfortunately, this is not Arrival. It’s difficult to separate the visuals from the narrative in 2049, which is why it may experience some backlash when the hype dies down in a couple of months and people start to really sink their teeth in. In saying that, it’s a near impossible job to adapt anything related to Ridley Scott’s original 1982 film that was inspired by the Philip K. Dick novel ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’.
Villeneuve’s sequel does kick off with a promising start. ‘K’ and his encounter with replicant Saffer (Dave Bautista) is a memorable one, and rings back to that first scene with ‘Roy’ in the original. The brooding K’s mission is intriguing and echoes Deckard’s neo-noir tale in the original, until it hits a wall with the involvement of the Wallace corporation who are basically the new Tyrell.
It’s a sudden switch to the ordinary and cliche that brings this film down. On top of that, it toys with the first film by bringing back certain characters for wholly unnecessary scenes that if anything, destroy moments in the original rather than pay tribute to it. The beauty of the first Blade Runner was its ambiguity, which is taken a way a little here.
Villain Wallace’s agenda is also an issue – it’s all a little too over-the-top and dramatic. For such a complex, enigmatic, and even god-like character, his sudden change in motivation mid-plot make him seem more like a glorified Marvel movie villain. The character could have done with a little more screen time to really flesh him out.
The film’s male characters are generally nothing special. Deckard is there to just generally be there. Gosling’s ‘K’ is OK despite the actor’s ordinary Drive-like performance. However, it’s the interactions between the blade runner and his holographic girlfriend Joi (a great performance by Ana De Armas) that make for some of the film’s most beautiful and complex scenes, and continue to explore and even deepen those themes of identity that we saw in the first film.
It wouldn’t be a Blade Runner movie without a word on the soundtrack, and the much anticipated soundtrack by Hans Zimmer (Dunkirk) and Benjamin Wallfisch (IT) is a little too experimental and last minute. They’ve done little to diversify between tracks and most of the time, the score just feels like an alternative version of the original main title theme by Vangelis. There are times when Zimmer’s signature Inception-like booms and ambient whines fit the film perfectly, but they eventually go into overdrive and it’s just too much. Perhaps, Villeneuve regular Johan Johansson would have been a better choice after all.
This film is a really difficult one to digest. I honestly feel conflicted. Some of the original is there, and it’s even been built on in an endearing and plausible way. Villeneuve is a great director, but there should’ve been more time spent building those fresh new characters and stories, rather than toying with the original in those cliche Hollywood ways.