FILM REVIEW – BLADE RUNNER 2049. With Harrison Ford, Ryan Gosling, Ana de Armas, Robin Wright, Jared Leto. Written by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green. Directed by Denis Villeneuve. Rated R for violence, some sexuality, nudity and language. 163 minutes.
Easily one of the most anticipated films of the year, BLADE RUNNER 2049 is a mixed bag. It has moments of brilliance, encompassing everything from its art design to the futuristic concepts it develops. Alas, it is also a slow-moving, overlong film in which most of the cast was encouraged to underact to the point of sleepwalking. It’s a must-see for fans of the 1982 original film, but there will be heated debates to come between its advocates and its critics.
It’s thirty years after the original story and the Tyrell Corporation, which created the near-human “replicants” is no more. It has been supplanted by Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), who has developed a new generation of replicants who are more compliant to human control. Still, there are many of the Tyrell replicants out there and so “blade runners” like K (Ryan Gosling), are still needed to track them down and “retire” (i.e., kill) them.
One of the conceits of the film is that not only do the replicants seem human, but the humans seem robotic. K has no name. It’s the start of his serial number. He is repeatedly tested to see if he’s at his “baseline,” and yet–unlike the Voight-Kampff test for empathy in the original film–it’s utterly unclear how this new test is supposed to work.
K is given a new assignment, to track down a child that has gone missing and is now an adult. In the tradition of “noir” detective stories which the original followed, K’s journey takes him on an exploration of his world. It is a world of massive sets that seems decidedly underpopulated. Eventually it takes him to Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), the blade runner of the original film who took off with a beautiful replicant at the end of the movie and may – and this has been debated for years – be a replicant himself.
The problem here is that, besides the leaden pacing, it’s not clear what this movie is about. “Blade Runner” asked what it means to be human and, more, what was the meaning of life in the face of death. This film has a few tricks up its sleeves, but they’re plot twists, not something to think about afterward. Indeed, in learning about a potential new rebellion of the surviving replicants, it’s not clear what that would mean for them or for humanity. Do they want liberation or do they want to overthrow the established order and put themselves in charge?
There are moments of invention that are standouts. K’s sole emotional connection is with a hologram (Ana de Armas), and in a surreal moment that is both touching and creepy, the hologram merges with a prostitute so that he can have a physical connection as well. It’s moments like this that make the film worth watching and thinking about, yet there are more set pieces like a fistfight between K and Deckard that go on pointlessly while providing some clever visuals.
“Blade Runner 2049” is less than the sum of its parts, although some will overlook or defend its flaws and embrace it. Perhaps going in with lowered expectations will make for a more satisfying experience.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.
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