***Article Contains Spoilers***
Before watching Blade Runner 2049, I had never seen the original Blade Runner. To many who had, Blade Runner 2049 is the sequel to a science-fiction classic and defining movie of a generation. To me, it is just another Hollywood film.
Blade Runner 2049 has received mostly excellent reviews from Blade Runner fans old and new, and it’s not hard to see why. The new film does what the original did and more, and to fans, that’s a miracle. But to me, it’s a disappointment.
To be certain, Blade Runner 2049 is a stylish, smart film, but it’s neither beautiful nor profound. It has been called “visually stunning” by a multitude of critics and “deep” by most. But glossy, realistic graphics are not beautiful by that virtue, and simply bringing-up philosophical concepts is not profound.
Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, now over 90 years-old, with its grand Futurist city and equally-grand capitalism, is the obvious predecessor to the original Blade Runner. The new film proffers the same apparently imminent, bleak vision of the future we have been fed for the past century. The city is updated, shinier now, but it is still the same city. Suffice it to say, the vision is no longer fresh, compelling, or believable.
The original Blade Runner score, composed by ambient-electronic music pioneer Vangelis, has been replaced in the new Blade Runner by a bombastic and overwrought orchestral score composed by Hans Zimmer. Vangelis’s score was forward-thinking and remains fresh; Zimmer’s is another score by Zimmer. How is it that, as time draws on, sci-fi becomes less inspired in all aspects?
At 163 minutes, for a film with an absurdly sociopathic comic-book villain, action-movie violence, a holographic girlfriend, and a secret that could “break the world,” Blade Runner 2049 is also a remarkably boring and drab drama. K (Ryan Gosling), the film’s protagonist, is not unsympathetic because he’s (spoiler alert) a replicant (robot), but because he has zero charisma. Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is now old and bitter, no longer the romantic hero he was in the original, and plays a smaller role in the film than one wished or expected. Our villain, arch-capitalist Niander Wallace, played by the ever-intimidating Jared Leto (I kid), is more of a parody than a genuine terror, with his casual gratuitous cruelty and incessant Biblical allegory. There is also Mariette, possibly the film’s most intriguing character, a street-urchin prostitute and, as we later find out, a replicant revolutionary. Her role in the film is minimal, but I would gladly watch Blade Runner 2049 again if it were written from her perspective.
Every other character is forgettable, except Joi, the aforementioned hologram. She (it?) is cute, bubbly, and completely devoted to K (she was programmed, after all). But she is, as the film ceaselessly emphasizes, just a hologram. It’s hard to care very much about a character who can be “played” and “paused” at any time by her master, err, boyfriend. It’s not hard to see why some critics have pegged this Blade Runner as misogynist.
Despite its flaws, it would not be fair to dismiss Blade Runner 2049 entirely. As previously stated, it is undeniably stylish and smart. There are a few particularly exhilarating moments, such as when K and Deckard duel in front of a holographic Elvis. They trade witticisms and the action is entertaining in the most authentic way. It is a pastiche, but a worthy one. If Blade Runner 2049 worried less about being seen as so serious and embraced this side of its personality more, maybe it wouldn’t be so frustratingly middlebrow. The film’s big twist near the end also felt remarkably genuine and affecting. However, it killed all the momentum the film had, leaving it to end with an awkward 40-minute epilogue.
Although they are undeveloped, and at this point tired staples of smart sci-fi, the philosophical concepts Blade Runner 2049 brings up are certainly worth discussing. They are “What are the socioeconomic implications of modernization?” and, “What makes us human, with respect to AI?” Blade Runner 2049 makes three claims; modernization will further the social divide between men and women concurrently with the rise of AI, and this will inevitably lead to the oppression of the lower classes (the former, which is apparent in the modern world, is more intriguing than the latter, which thus far history has proven to be false). Also, the defining characteristic of humanity is that it is self-sacrificial, not necessarily that human women can give birth. The last claim would be more interesting if it didn’t result in the protagonist sacrificing himself for what is the most contrived, sappy ending I have seen in a film in years.
At first glance, Blade Runner 2049 appears to me to be a film unsure of what it wants to be; an unabashedly lowbrow sci-fi flick, or a lofty philosophical drama. But, I know that’s false; Blade Runner 2049 set out specifically to fill a certain niche (The Matrix, The Shawshank Redemption, The Dark Knight, etc.) of thoroughly entertaining movies that keep you thinking throughout. It’s a shame it couldn’t live up to those standards.