Blade Runner 2049 review

4 November 2017

Title:Blade Runner 2049
Runtime:164 min

Warning: This review may contain spoilers for both Blade Runner (1982) and Blade Runner 2049 (2017).

Blade Runner (1982) consistently appears in listings of best SciFi movies ever made. Critics who fawned over its sequel referred to it as "one of the best SciFi movies of the year". This is probably accurate. There literally wasn't much competition.

An equally accurate but perhaps kinder description would be that Blade Runner 2049 makes an honest attempt to be a worthy follow-up to Blade Runner (1982). It not only attempts this with its stunning visuals that replicate and expand on the originals and with its electronic score that tries for the same with Vangelis's inimitable soundscape design, it does so by exploring ideas that are in the spirit of the original but expand on it and bring in new questions and new perspectives.

The attempt is honest, well meant, and to be lauded, as the vast majority of Hollywood films deserve no such praise.

What it is not, is particularly successful.

This is not to say that Blade Runner 2049 does not have its shining moments. Dave Bautista's face before he enters his home in the first scene chillingly conveys that he knows exactly what awaits him there, making this moment a powerful allegory for any man who was ever hunted over his race or genetic heritage. (And is a more convincing piece of acting than anything Mr. Gosling manages throughout 2.75 hours of screen time.)

Ana de Armas' cry of "I love you!" speaks volumes about the illusive question of how real emotions are, and the relationship between 'K' and Joi makes a fine point about our need to believe even in what we know is fake.

But where a masterpiece differs from a forgettable film is that in a masterpiece these shining moments construct a world greater than the sum of its parts, whereas here the moments break on any attempt to expand them:


Worse -- again underlining the difference between masterpiece and disposable entertainment -- the story here does not carry the weight of the world it is constructed in. Blade Runner (1982) would have been forgettable if Roy Batty had not saved Deckard in its final scene. It is this climax that turns the replicants from simple villains to a succinct statement about the human condition and human rage against god and death. Blade Runner 2049 has no such redemptive moment. The villainous Luv remains a simple Terminator, comparable with Sofia Boutella's character in Kingsman. In fact, none of the characters seem to have any arc at all.

This is not to say that their actions are consistent and understandable. The film's initial scene, its lead-in, demonstrates this remarkably well:

And yet we are never explained any part of it.

And this is far from being an isolated example. It is, for example, never explained why Luv, with all her speeches about 'miracles', behaves the way she does, and whether she works for Wallace or against him. It is similarly never explained -- despite lampshading -- why 'K' chooses to save Deckard. It is, in fact, not clear how this helps any of the film's characters. But do not make the mistake that has in recent years become a Hollywood screenwriter's maxim: vagueness does not equal depth; it's just lazy storytelling.

In the end, Blade Runner 2049 does a good job of copying its predecessor's moody, alienating atmosphere, its extravagant set design and dramatic electronic score, but fails by not having a story to tell that merits their use. Without such a story, the dramatic music which at first ripens the suspense eventually turns it overripe and -- after almost three hours -- rancid.

Full marks for the attempt, but just for the attempt.