Heavy Spoilers Below
Any follow-up to Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner was going to be an uphill struggle, nonetheless the signs looked good when Scott returned to godfather the production as Executive Producer, while original screenwriter Hampton Fancher came back to write the script (with Michael Green). Harrison Ford also signed-on to reprise his role of Deckard, Ryan Gosling joined the cast and then director Denis Villeneuve hired praised cinematographer Roger Deakins to deliver the film’s visuals. If a Blade Runner sequel was ever going to work, then it was going to be with this top-tier team.
Sadly, Blade Runner 2049 doesn’t work.
The original Philip K. Dick adaptation was a grim, yet refreshing dystopian science fiction film which pushed the boundaries of the genre. The look and tone has been copied by many over the last 35 years, but never bettered and it still holds up today (no matter which version of the film’s multi-cuts you watch).
This new film is over-long (163 minutes compared to the 1982 film’s 117), and it features a mish-mash of callbacks to the original along with too many worn-out sci-fi tropes – everyone is looking for ‘the one’ who will change the face of humanity and lead a Replicant rebellion. Thrown in is a villainous Henchwoman who feels like she belongs in a sequel to Paul Verhoeven’s slam-bam Dick adaptation, Total Recall, rather than a follow-up to Scott’s dream-like original. This might have a similar languid pace to the original, but it doesn’t have the depth.
Ryan Gosling is K, a Replicant Blade Runner who kills Dave Bautista’s farmer ‘Skin Job’ in the opening scenes. K discovers what appears to be human remains, but they turn out to be those of Rachel, the Replicant Sean Young played in the original film. It also turns out that she has had a child – something which was thought impossible.
K is sent by his superior (Robin Wright) to track the child and kill it, because the thought of breeding Replicants is just too icky for the world to experience. However, Jared Leto’s Niander Wallace is just all about the icky and he’d just love his Replicants to breed so that he can cut down on costs and raise prosecution levels. Niander sends ass-kicking Luv Sylvia Hoeks (also a Replicant) after Gosling, who in turn tracks down Harrison Ford’s Deckard to Las Vegas.
Unfortunately for Deckard, what happens in Vegas doesn’t stay there. Deckard is the father of the ‘miracle’ Replicant and he’s done a (blade) runner in order to protect the identity of his offspring. Meanwhile, Gosling’s K has childhood memories of a wooden horse, memories which could only have come from being the child of Rachel and Deckard. So, he hits Vegas in the hope of a family reunion. The film then continues for another 60+ minutes where we have Leto question Deckard’s humanity, before throwing in a young Sean Young cameo. Finally, there’s a climatic fight on…I’m not quite sure where as a matter of fact, before an ending which has the potential to lead to more sequels.
Blade Runner 2049 looks and sounds great, and Roger Deacons’ cinematography is perfectly complimented by Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer’s score (the best bits come from Vangelis’ original soundtrack). BUT, the film just doesn’t have the game changing wow factor of the Scott’s 1982 film. We still get Spinners, huge billboards and the faces of Oriental ladies peering out into the neon night sky (now with added nudity) amongst a plethora of Atari adverts, but there’s nothing new on display here. Even Gosling’s walk through a graveyard of abandoned giant statues of sultry ladies feels like a left over from the opening of the 1995 James Bond adventure Goldeneye. The claustrophobic world that Scott created has been opened up to show us that not only does it rain in the future – but we also get snow! But don’t worry, the desert is still dry as a bone.
One of the finest moments in the original Blade Runner is when Harrison Ford uses the film’s advanced futuristic technology to zoom into a picture and look at the detail. This was science fiction in 1982, but of course it’s now something we can all do on our iPhones. If this is used in the new film once, it’s used at least four times, turning this from cute call-back to distinctly annoying. And it’s still not as good as it was in 1982!
Nobody disappoints on a performance level: Gosling looks as cool as you’d expect, and he’s so damn sexy that even holograms want to sleep with him. That’s some serious next level pin-up status that he’s got going on. The film really picks-up pace when Harrison Ford enters the equation, showing off a Las Vegas bachelor pad to die for, while also also highlighting that he’s still got the charisma to outshine younger stars like Gosling. It’s a shame that there isn’t more of Ford, because he shows-up late in proceedings and you get the feeling that more Ford would have made this feel like an authentic sequel rather than a homage. I’d happily spend more time with Deckard and his booze loving dog as they take in some Elvis and Sinatra shows in Vegas.
Following in the footsteps of Indiana Jones and Han Solo, Harrison’s turn as Deckard marks the third time that he has returned to an iconic character – and it’s also the third time that he’s played a ‘dead-beat’ dad trying to re-engage with his kid. Perhaps Ford’s return to these beloved characters is his way of reassuring fans from the ‘80s that he’s back to look after us in a time when iconic movie heroes are few and far between.
Blade Runner 2049 was always going to have to work hard to please fans and although the talent in front of, and behind the camera is still evident, the film comes across as rote. Yes, some reviewers are gushing over the film, though I imagine they’ll feel a sense of the Emperor’s New Clothes once the dust has settled. This is like a fan-fiction expansion of the original (gee, let’s see what the rest of California looks like in the future) and while it’s great to have a well-produced, serious science fiction movie, this doesn’t live up to the majesty of the original. There’s nothing as powerful as Rutger Hauer’s ‘Tears In The Rain’ speech or as awe-inspiring as the opening city skyline. The characters don’t display the depth which made that film an emotional quandary, and instead this comes down to a regular goodies vs baddies scenario. The world of Blade Runner was much more than that, but I guess you can’t get that sort of moral ambiguity when a $200 million budget is on the line.