Blade Runner 2049 Review
CGI rendering has rarely looked so effortless. In the sequel to Blade Runner, it’s damn near flawless. Too often films that rely on CGI let themselves down with poor rendering despite having immense budgets and some of the industry’s brightest minds working on the projects. Low standards will always rear their head in the end. Yet, as astonishing as the CGI is in Blade Runner 2049, it's hard not to question how long sci-fi cinema will remain stuck in this dystopian rut. How many murky cities filled with monolithic towers and neon advertising will be designed? Is there no end to the desolate, windswept deserts that continue to fill our screens? Of course, Blade Runner is largely responsible for inspiring the imaginations of today's directors but 35 years on the sequel presented the perfect opportunity to re-imagine, rather than merely expand the original's vision of the future.
This may seem like the boot is about to be strapped on and sent crashing into the side of Villeneuve's long anticipated sequel, but that's not the case. Aside from some jarring product placement, there is nothing to truly dislike about the film. But after sitting through 163 minutes of indistinct imagery, it's hard not to wonder, when did sci-fi begin to merge into this one look vision that finds its way into almost every film today? Has the unknown now become that predictable? There's not enough room to dig into that now but it's a problem that effects Blade Runner 2049. This Roger Deakins lensed sequel looks immaculate and is vast in its visual ambition. Even though it has no hope of matching the breadth of imagination created in the original, in its own modern sci-fi way, it gives it a shot.
Moving on 30 years from the original we return to Los Angeles. After 'the blackout' which wiped the Earth of its digital history, the rich began to desert the planet to inhabit new, safer and cleaner pastures. With the Tyrell Corporation in ruins, Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) created the obedient Nexus 9 to serve mankind. Most of the Nexus 8s have been destroyed and those that are on the run are still being 'retired.' The program is headed up by Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright) who is backed by her top agent, K (Ryan Gosling). A routine retirement opens up an unexpected trail of clues that lead towards the unexpected birth of a child, the blurred lines of memory creation, and the reappearance of Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford).
As visually awe inspiring as the original remains, it was nowhere near as profound as it believes itself to be. It lacks heart and is far too obtuse. There can't be any other reason why Ridley Scott could never let the original version lie. The inverse can be said about Villeneuve's update. While many of the same themes are mined again - what it means to be human and our God complex being the primary concerns of Hampton Fancher's script - there is more of a connection to K’s emotional journey. Even though he starts off aloof and distant, Gosling does well to slowly draw out the uncertain and uncharacteristic feelings buried inside his bruised and bloodied shell.
The rest of cast remain mostly functional in their roles. Wright is dependable while Bautista and Lennie James make brief appearances. K's off-the-shelf holographic girlfriend, Joi (Ana de Armas), unintentionally borders on annoyance, while Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) feels a little too T-X like. Leto only appears briefly but his screen time is spent spewing out the usual grandiose nonsense that geniuses are so often required to regurgitate. Harrison Ford's appearance adds a certain sense of nostalgia as the aged and changed Deckard and that natural change in appearance adds a new dimension that was sorely missing in his younger version.
For a film that lasts so long, it feels surprisingly light and despite the long bridges in between meaningful action, Gosling remains a compelling enough actor to stick with. He has made a career out of his deadpan poker face and is a fitting choice for the role. Villeneuve paces the film well and is accompanied by a brooding Hans Zimmer score that doesn’t feel as overtly Zimmer-ish as you might expect, which at this stage can only be a good thing. And still, the burning question remains throughout, what is there to make it memorable, a classic sci-film of our time?
The answer is nothing. What Villeneuve has done is play it safe. Ridley Scott's Blade Runner not only changed how far science fiction could travel onscreen but it opened the doors of imagination for all of cinema. Despite failing at the box office it was that visionary. The mere idea of a sequel was viewed as sacrilege by fans deeply protective of the original. Villeneuve is no doubt a huge fan himself and knew it was a project to be handled with kid gloves. Everything had to be right. It had to feel like a Blade Runner film. Which is exactly its problem. Ironically, it falls into the same trap that recently tripped another of Scott's recent reprisals, namely Alien: Covenant. After trying something different with Prometheus, he gave fans want they originally wanted the second time round: a straight forward Alien flick. Blade Runner 2049 does exactly the same, ticking all the boxes it was meant to and by doing so robs itself of the chance of reaching for something far greater.