Ten Thousand Bytes of Cinematic Critique
I like the original Blade Runner quite a bit, but even I admit that the movie’s appeal rests mostly on its aesthetics, which have permeated countless movies/videogames/books/whatevers since 1982. Sure, the movie hints at some interesting ethical/philosophical questions and ends with a great monologue, but no one would care about it if not for the revolutionary production design.So, following up on such a movie poses a massive challenge. The filmmakers have to avoid all the common sequel pratfalls while matching (and pushing forward) the legendary visual standards of the original. I can report, quite happily, that they succeed. Good luck finding a better looking movie than this. (Big shout, Roger D.)Moreover, the movie does an OUTSTANDING job of honoring the technological vision of the original while infusing the world with ideas that seem like logical extensions/evolutions of 2017 tech. I speak particularly of Joi, the operating system/personal assistant/holographic wife simulation that effectively serves as the protagonist's friction-free life/work partner. First, Ana de Armas does a stupendous job of realizing that character. Second, the idea of that technology is so obviously the future of human romantic relationships that I have entered a debilitating funk of depression in the ~24 hours since I’ve seen this movie (to be clear though, I think of that character/idea as one of the best, most prescient things this film offers, depression notwithstanding).And I haven’t mentioned the story yet! Again, I think the appeal here largely revolves around the world/visuals, but the movie does well to not fail in any way. The filmmakers make nothing but good choices. Focusing on a new main character = good. Reducing Ford to a minor character = good. Choosing to build this movie on things that happened AFTER the original (instead of things that happened DURING the original) = good. Preserving the ambiguity of the original = good. The lack of callbacks/fan service (with the possible exceptions of Olmos and the Atari logo) = good. No attempt to hit the “tears in rain” beat = good. Going after different themes/ideas = good.BR82 focuses on mortality, BR17 focuses on humanity. What does it mean to be human? What does it means to be real? Notably, the replicants drive the emotional content of this movie much more than the human characters do. Our only prominent humans (the Jared Leto/Robin Wright characters) abandoned their humanity long before the events of the film began. Depending on who you ask, Harrison Ford’s Deckard might be human, but in a single line that epitomizes both films, he waves away the importance of the distinction (when asked if his dog is real, Deckard grumbles “ask him,” referring to the stoic canine).I don’t think the movie is perfect. I could point out some minor plot details I don’t like, and moan about the uninspired final confrontation (which a lot of other people seem to like), but this is a great movie that provokes in all the ways science fiction should.This Denis V guy has NBA Jam flames shooting out of him right now. Sicario? Prisoners? Arrival? Blade Runner 2049? HE’S ON FIRE! That’s an all-time level directorial winning streak.
The original Blade Runner is my favorite movie, and I consider the novel (although different than the film) to be my favorite P.K. Dick novel. There is something about the world of Rick Deckard that appeals on many levels to me. I had done an excellent job of avoiding almost all press and media for Blade Runner 2049, the sequel that took 35 years to hit. After seeing the film, I've avoided most press to let the impact fully settle. I do know that the movie has an 8.5 on IMDB and 88% on Rotten Tomatoes, and some outlets say it is Best Picture material. As much as I love the universe, B.R. 2049 could have just been average and I would have loved it. This movie was a mess. It was an overly long slog with two-dimensional characters that showed us things we already saw in movies like Blade Runner (the original) and Dredd. Unlike Tron Legacy, which took an exisiting idea and improved it with all kinds of glorious style over substance, B.R. 2049 just mimicked the original and presented it as new, with needless touches like floating stones and extra titties in the advertisements. Whereas the original presented the Replicants as conflicted people who wanted freedom whatever the cost, 2049 presents villains with no nuance and unclear motivations, while introducing important plot points half-hazardly as a way to move the half-born story along. The one eyed woman makes her second appearance deep in the movie, and we're supposed to consider her important. Why? She only has one eye! Duh! She's like Nick Fury. Perhaps the greatest sin of this the romance story between Ryan Gosling (who plays himself) and his A.I. While I'm sure director Denis Villeneuve (who has done some incredible work) and screenwriters Hampton Fancher and Michael Green were expecting this to be on the level of Spike Jonze's Her, the plot point was handled with all the nuance and subtlety of an early 90s Marvel comic book. This may be the biggest dud of a romance plot all decade. Was Niander Wallace (played by Jared Leto) compelling? No. Not in any way. At best, we got to feel creeped out as Leto molests a woman, just like he does in real life. Fortunately, Sylvia Hoeks as the Replicant Luv steals the show as a great bad guy, even though I don't understand her motivation. Was she programmed that way? Does she want the MacGuffin for herself? How does she feel about other Replicants? I don't know. I don't care. I enjoyed other characters in this movie, such as Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright), Mariette (Mackenzie Davis), and Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista in a painfully small role). I also got to see what Edward James Olmos looks like as an old man, considering he looked old even when he was young. People will say the point of B.R. 2049 is not the story, but the visuals and world. As I noted, nothing here is new. I've seen singing holograms in other movies. I do like the way the world is presented without too much explanation. There was clearly a nuclear war and things are in bad shape, but otherwise it's a backdrop to the movie and you don't need to know all the unnecessary details (or this would have been a 5 hour movie). The film does look good. It's just...so what? Lots of movies look good. If you thought Nicolas Winding Refn's The Neon Demon was a great movie, you will love Blade Runner 2049. If you thought the Neon Demon was a ridiculous exercise that sacrificed all in the name of style, then maybe, like me, you will find 2049 falls short of being good. In its second opening weekend, B.R. 2049 finished 4th behind cinematic disasters Boo 2! A Madea Halloween, Geostorm and Happy Death Day. I'm sure B.R. 2049 is better than those, but not much, and it's a fitting fate. When you have over three decades to get something right, you better fucking do better than this. P.S. The soundtrack was pretty good, as Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch aped the original Vangelis soundtrack while putting forward their own good ideas. It's what I wanted from the rest of the movie.
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