Studio: Columbia Pictures
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writer: Hampton Fancher, Michael Green
Producer: Andrew A. Kosove, Broderick Johnson, Bud Yorkin, Cynthia Sikes Yorkin
Stars: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armis, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Mackenzie Davis, Carla Juri, Lennie James, Sean Young, Edward James Olmos, Dave Bautista, Jared Leto
30 years after Rick Deckard’s disappearance, a new blade runner uncovers a mystery that could lead to a replicant revolution.
Blade runner Rick Deckard and experimental replicant Rachael disappeared 30 years ago. Since then, the Wallace Corporation grew from the bankrupted ruins of Tyrell and with it came a new breed of lawfully obedient replicants.
KD6-3.7 is one such replicant. ‘K’ is also a blade runner, an LAPD officer tasked with hunting and exterminating remaining Tyrell replicants who’ve gone into hiding. They may be different models, but K’s anomalous apathy toward his own kind makes his soulless self outwardly colder than the average skinjob, even though he see still seeks personal intimacy from his holographic companion Joi.
K’s latest assignment to forcibly retire another rogue replicant should be routine. It becomes anything but when K uncovers a buried box containing a skeleton. This skeleton in turn reveals a secret threatening to change everything humans thought they knew about artificial intelligence. Boring to the core of this mystery not only requires K to confront his own conflicted identity, but forces him to find the one man who might reveal the truth: Rick Deckard.
Of Ridley Scott’s original “Blade Runner” (review here), I previously said, “if you break the hypnotic spell of the undeniably amazing production design, the reality is you’re stuck staring at a (patiently paced) police procedural.” The former action describes what director Denis Villeneuve’s “Blade Runner 2049” does by altering its atmospheric artistry. The latter result describes a distillation of the sequel’s remaining substance.
“Blade Runner 2049” evolves the slow burn science-fiction of its predecessor from heavy doses of Harrison Ford looking passively pensive in seated conversations to heavier doses of Ryan Gosling wearing an expression of concerned confusion while standing or walking. This time around, a slightly more satisfying story propels plotting. It isn’t a simple hide-and-seek hunt at least. But K seemingly cracks the case before the one-hour mark, making much of his remaining mission a hoop jump of verifying what he thinks he already knows.
Of course, it turns out that things aren’t entirely what they appear to be. This instead means that “Blade Runner 2049’s” lengthy goose chase does more to orchestrate a series of one-and-done scenes for its stars than it does to creatively contribute to a largely quiet narrative.
MILD CONTEXTUAL SPOILERS
Dave Bautista appears in a single instance as the rebellious replicant providing K’s first breadcrumb. Blink and you’ll miss Wood Harris’ quick appearance as an ultimately inconsequential LAPD officer. Serving purely as momentary fan service connective tissue, Edward James Olmos never leaves a chair for his 50-second reprisal of Officer Gaff. Lennie James earns over double that duration for his only sequence, though Oscar nominee Barkhad Abdi can’t find a full 90 seconds of screen time.
If not for their brief reappearances later, David Dastmalchian’s forensics analyst and Carla Juri’s artificial memory maker would also only feature once. Reverse that order for Hiam Abbass’ replicant resistance leader. Even Jared Leto has just two scenes.
What of second-billed star Harrison Ford? He doesn’t enter frame until almost one hour and 45 minutes have elapsed, a period of time longer than a majority of major movies. There’s a valid story justification for this. Yet when a studio features one of the world’s biggest box office draws on a poster, in trailers, and incentivizes audience interest by purporting his prominence, back-loading Ford to the film’s fourth quarter feels mildly misleading.
Maybe the script had grander plans at one time for everyone above. Regardless, the final cut renders many actors’ inclusions either superfluous or negligible.
Action, what little of it exists, limits itself primarily to Ryan Gosling getting his face smashed during various confrontations. In the meantime, strap in for a feature-length episode of “Law and Order: Blade Runner Unit” whose nine-figure budget depicts the future as depressingly dull.
Marching to a tepid tempo is par for the course for a “Blade Runner” film. The original movie was far from a barnburner of excitement, so it’s partly understandable that the sequel sticks to smolder rather than sizzle. But for as uneventful as it is, “Blade Runner” irrefutably remains a paragon of phenomenal production design. To not recreate that same stylized atmosphere strips the setting, as well as the film’s texture, of its distinctiveness. And the replacement imagery doesn’t come close enough to recreating that visionary grandeur.
Few and far between shots showcase the gritty, congested, Asian-influenced L.A. made familiar by the first film. “Blade Runner 2049” expands scope somewhat by taking K out into more wide-open vistas, except most of these locations are shrouded in smoke or smog. Skylines often cannot be seen. Several interiors reduce eye candy clutter for the streamlined redundancy of repeated arches or cabinets. The final fight occurs in a dark wave pool. Such Spartan architecture seems out of synch with the mesmeric Syd Mead designs of “Blade Runner,” as though this production embarrassingly hides cut corners through soundstage simplicity.
Being set halfway into the 21st century can’t even prevent the contemporized equivalent of a microfiche research scene. Then there are extended hologram performances from both Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley. Rarely has speculative fiction traveled this far forward only to throw its concepts so far back.
“Blade Runner 2049” builds on “Blade Runner’s” inquisitive “what constitutes a soul?” philosophizing with an initially compelling twist on replicant mythology. But two hours and 40 minutes becomes an overlong time to slog through cityscape segues and dead end detective dramatics, aching to pinch out sparse kernels of deep dig thematic elements. That’s essentially what I think about the first film too. I therefore have to reason that “Blade Runner 2049” adequately follows its forefather’s formula for snail-paced sci-fi tempered by mildly intriguing aesthetics.
Review Score: 50