Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
***No plot spoilers***
As some of you may recall, I wasn’t going to watch this film. The original ‘Blade Runner’ (1982) has been my favourite film since I saw it at the age of 30, and it is still number one in my current top ten of all time. When I heard that there was to be a sequel, I groaned at the thought, quite frankly. I set in my mind that I was going to be an ‘original version snob’, and just refuse to watch it. I read many reviews, and all but one were glowingly positive. I had nothing against Denis Villeneuve or Ryan Gosling, you understand; but come on, this was ‘Blade Runner’ they were taking on.
But then my stepson came to stay with us for a while, and he bought the film on DVD. He has never seen the original, and despite my almost hysterical appeal for him to watch that one first, he asked me to watch the sequel with him on Sunday. As the opening credits rolled, I confess I felt uneasy…
I am not going into much detail about the plot, as it would be hard to avoid spoilers by doing so. The story takes up thirty years after the end of the first film. Gosling is a Blade Runner, doing the same thing as his predecessors, retiring renegade ‘Replicants’ (humanoid artificial beings) by tracking them down and killing them. He is also a replicant, and is called K, to denote his non-human status. The powerful Tyrell corporation that made these replicants has been replaced by the even more powerful (and suitably futuristic) Wallace Corporation, headed up by the mysterious blind genius, Wallace, played by Jared Leto.
K is given the task of killing someone, and in doing so uncovers a secret that has been closely guarded for thirty years. (Or since the end of the first film) Wallace also wants to find the evidence K is searching for, and as he gets ever closer to the truth, K is pressured by Wallace’s replicant aides, as well as his employer, the Los Angeles Police Department, with his situation rapidly becoming perilous.
So, being fair, non-judgmental, and trying to forget that the original is my number one film, here is what I think about the sequel.
1) Remember, this is a sequel. And it does follow on from events. Unlike some reviewers, I DO NOT agree that this should be viewed as a stand-alone film. WATCH THE 1982 FILM FIRST. You will be glad you did.
2) That original is referenced. The origami animals, the flying cars, the South Asian culture, they are all there. Harrison Ford appears in this film playing the same character, Deckard, thirty years older. They show small clips from the original, and some sound recordings too. Still want to see this first? Why?
3) In this new film, some of the special effects are simply outstanding, reflecting the advances in technology during thirty years. There are sequences where K’s holographic virtual girlfriend interacts with him, and a prostitute. They are just tremendous, like watching the best-ever magic trick.
4) Even on my rather tired six-year old TV, with no extra speakers, the soundtrack is actually thrilling to listen to.
5) Gosling is solid in the lead, but plays being a replicant no differently to his role in ‘Drive’. So similar in fact, I kept expecting a car chase.
6) The best bits are when the older film is referenced, though Harrison Ford still just looks tired and fed up during his sequence, much as he played it in 1982. Maybe he thought Deckard would still feel like that, I don’t know.
7) Futuristic Los Angeles looks much the same as it did in the 1982 film; but believe me, the original caught that mood so well, this one feels like it’s just a pale imitation. However, the dystopian vision of a deserted Las Vegas and its dilapidated casinos is beautifully done.
8) This film completely lost (presumably deliberately) that ‘film noir’ essence of Scott’s vision, and replaced it with the feel of a science-fiction epic. By doing so it lost the heart, and feels cold and calculated to watch.
9) It is far too slow. I am all for a deliberate and skillful ‘slow burn’ but this even slows down at the end. Come on, Denis, I could feel my eyelids drooping, and it was only late afternoon. And it is far too long. It could have lost a full thirty minutes, and we would have been none the wiser.
10) It isn’t exciting, and it isn’t witty. The original film had plenty of both, but this one tries for a sombre and serious look at the ethics of using replicants, and ends up a lot like ‘I Robot’, but with no robots. And no wisecracks from Will Smith.
It’s a good film. But not a very good film. And definitely not a great film, oh no. It has some good parts, that’s undeniable, but they do not add up to anything close to the stellar ‘Blade Runner’. Before you rush to tell me I am wrong, watch the original first. And if you have done that, and still think this one is better, then be warned that we are obviously not on the same wavelength and are never going to agree. Not about this film anyway.
Here’s a trailer.