‘I’ On Culture
Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 was one of the most anticipated films of the year. The original film, produced in 1982, is a landmark in sci-fi noir — a moody, influential masterpiece. Film buffs have dealt with four different versions of the original, and all those in the know have been holding their breath over how good the new film would be.
You can exhale now. It is a decent film, wonderfully shot, but with a tiny plot that has holes large enough to drag a spaceship through.
In the original movie, the Tyrell Corporation has constructed artificial humans, called replicants, to do jobs that humans could not handle. However, they looked and behaved pretty much like humans, aside from being stronger and generally more capable. And they were limited to four years of life.
Deckard (Harrison Ford) was a “blade runner,” out to “retire” a group of replicants who had gone rogue because they did not want to die. As part of the plot, he met the niece of the big boss, Rachael (Sean Young), who was actually a replicant with the memories of the real women implanted in her. In the end, Deckard and Rachael ran off.
In the new movie, which takes place 30 years later, K (Ryan Gosling) is a replicant out to retire the old models. While doing his job, he finds a box of bones belonging to Rachael that show that she gave birth, something that sends K’s boss Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright) and her bosses into hysterics. After all, if replicants could reproduce, they could eventually take over.
K is sent to investigate, find and terminate the child. There are twists and turns along the way, which I will not give away here, and eventually, there is sort of an ending.
The problem is that the film runs two hours and 42 minutes but has just about enough plot for perhaps an hour. A blind entrepreneur, Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), sets his own very tough replicant Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) to monitor the situation. She plays an important role but, just as one plot hole, I have no idea whether she was for letting replicants… well, replicate, or against. She certainly was vicious.
K had almost no life except for a program that created a holographic girlfriend, Joi (Ana de Armas), who is his one confidant. She handles dinner, flirts and switches dresses instantly. Thanks to bonuses, K is able to build a device that allows her to feel sensations. It is a weird relationship, particularly in a scene featuring Mackenzie Davis as a hooker named Mariette.
Harrison Ford plays himself as a grumpy old guy really well. He pretty much seems the only human around, although he might actually be a replicant. When he comes onto the screen about two hours in, the action perks up. Gosling underplays his character most of the way through. I did like de Armas, who made her character and Gosling’s more interesting.
The problem with the film, besides its slow pace, is that Villeneuve and his brilliant director of photography Roger Deakins spent most of the time on incredible sets and special effects. A city of huge holograms through constant rain makes for beautiful shots, but encourages dozing during the film. The beauty does not make up for the lack of plot.
The real question posed by these films is: What makes people human? It seems simple, but slaveholders of early America had their opinions, and Nazis believed Jews were not humans, which led to genocide. Various groups denigrate others, providing excuses for horrible actions.
In Blade Runner 2049, there seems no difference between replicants and humans, yet one group can be killed at will. Why is someone delivered from a woman’s womb different from one manufactured? And what of the holographic programs? It would have made a better film to deal with some of those issues.
I was greatly disappointed. I am a science fiction fan, love noir films and love puzzles. But there were many elements in this film that just made too little sense for me. Unless you really know and love the earlier film, this one will just seem long and overblown. I would wait until you can see this at home.