dir: Denis Villeneuve
It’s amazing that they tried to do this.
I’m glad that they did it, in some ways. Yes, the original is a bona fide 80s sci-fi classic. On the other hand, there’s not really a sense that some mercenary jerks got together and thought “Hey, we need to make oodles more money from exploiting a franchise famous for being a box office failure but a critical darling, because that’ll definitely work”.
Or maybe they were that delusional. It happens. They made a Baywatch movie, after all.
Instead of going down the commercial route, they seem to have made a very expensive film, and spent a fortune advertising it (I assume it’s a fortune if I see posters advertising it at the tram and bus stops in my neighbourhood), completely at odds with what was likely to happen with audiences.
So, just to leap ahead to the end result: Blade Runner 2049 lost way more money and connected with far fewer people than the original did. Maybe that was all part of the plan?
Which is a shame, because in a lot of ways it’s a better film, and is quite compelling, even if it is the continuation of a story that no-one really asked for. Also, it has as its centre an actor who seems content to be a void more than a presence, which is his prerogative, I guess. Say what you will about Harrison Ford, but whatever role he’s in or however good or back the flick is that he’s in, he is very much present. He very much fills a role with his presence.
Not so much Ryan Gosling, who has raised impassivity to an art form. It might sound like I’m criticising him for his performance here, but I’m really not, because I don’t doubt that he probably did exactly what the director wanted for this role. You needed a blue-eyed robot for a role; you got the most blue-eyed robot of them all.
Denis Villeneuve doesn’t make happy flicks. They might be enjoyable on a visual and intellectual level, but on an emotional level they are a scorched wasteland. Nothing I’ve ever seen of his offers comfort, uplift, positive emotions, anything like that whatsoever. What-so-fucking-ever. If anything, when I think back to films like Prisoners, Sicario, Enemy and now this goddamn Blade Runner update, I get a cold chill down my spine and a feeling of pervasive melancholy. Arrival was a beautiful film, but, c’mon, it broke my heart and possibly the world.
By the end of this one I felt a bit drained, and, like the main character, wondering if it all (and by all I mean two and a half hours of my life) had been really worth it, and whether it was a story that desperately needed to be told.
Which isn’t that bad, compared to Sicario, where at film’s end I felt as betrayed and depressed as the main character, when she realised that she wasn’t the main character after all.
The world conjured in 2049 is obviously constructed on the bones of the earlier Ridley Scott film, but with contemporary technology to elaborate upon the now fairly commonplace aesthetic created for the earlier film. Way back when that flick came out in 1982, I think it was set in 2019, and the world they envisaged was one which looked like ours, except there was way more neon everywhere, lots of rain, and lots of Asian influences. Humans already lived off-world, and there was this worrying class of artificial people called replicants who were bad and needed to be hunted down and / or sent to refugee camps on hellish islands or something.
Not to spoil a flick that’s 36 years old, but the protagonist turned out to not be what he thought he was, which was meant to be additionally ironic considering his line of work in killing evil replicants.
Instead of redoing the original flick, or going off on some kind of tangent, 2049 explicitly continues on a strange story that originates specifically with the original film, and, this would be a tremendous spoiler, has not just references, but includes some of the original’s characters, to make it seem like it’s a story that grows organically from the first flick as a natural continuation, rather than something that lamely approximates the first but adds Thunderdomes or lightsabres or porgs.
Yes, Edward James Olmos, who must be like 247 years old by now, reprises his role as… I dunno, the creepy police detective Gaff who keeps making origami unicorns from the original Blade Runner.
He’s still making those fucking unicorns. Christ almighty just let him die already.
Instead of unicorns, a wooden, carved pony takes pride of place as the main and only symbol, pregnant with meaning and mystery, repeated endlessly throughout the film.
K (Ryan Gosling) is basically the same as Deckard from the first flick, in that his job is to hunt down and kill rogue replicants or Nexus droids or whatever they’re called, except that he knows he’s a replicant. As you would think would be fairly obvious, except when you consider that the joke in the original flick was on us, not the main character. K cheerfully (I am using the term sarcastically of course) goes about his work, in the course of which he stumbles upon a mystery that reaches back to Deckard and Rachael (Sean Young) from the faraway past.
The world is very much the neon-lit holographic world from all those years ago, only it’s gotten way worse, too. You really do get the feeling that it’s pretty much a dead world, only that people haven’t acknowledged it yet. People still live in these massively industrialised cities, meant to recall a hyper-industrialised Babylonian-Egyptian epoch (with its stepped corporate ziggurats and pyramids) but there is very little of the organic living world left alive. About the only ‘organic’ living things are the seemingly few remaining people who are actually people, and some maggots they use for food.
They talk about humanity having spread to multiple other worlds, or across the stars, maybe, so it doesn’t mean the end of humans, I guess. But back here on Earth, all the animals are gone (admittedly they were gone already by the time of the first film). There don’t seem to be many plants anywhere. It’s like all the robots and appliances are just waiting for us humans to either die off or leave, so they can finally work in peace.
None of this concerns K at first, I guess, because he’s not programmed to do so. He seems somewhat ‘happy’ with his lot in ‘life’, but his discovery at a farm at the beginning of the flick trigger all sorts of… unpleasantness. He himself is a replicant, but he has a relationship with a hologram (Ana de Armas) so things are fine. Fine, really, they’re fine.
The bones found at the farm threaten to tear a hole through the fabric of this future society. The main reason for that is this – the bones are, for reasons, evidence that a replicant did something far beyond what they were programmed or constructed to do: A replicant, at some point in time, gave birth.
No-one knows how this could have happened, or why, but it seems pretty clear that were the world to find out, apparently, being able to keep replicants as slaves will no longer be possible, and revolution will ensue.
K don’t care nothing for any of that mess. What he cares about, as he painstakingly goes about trying to solve this mystery, is, considering some of the strange memories he seems to possess, he that holy baby born of replicants? Is he the chosen one, I mean, Chosen One?
Okay, for those not keeping track the first flick was about a guy who thought he was a human (like we all do) but who was really a replicant. This flick is about a replicant who knows he’s a replicant, but who hopes that he may be human, or at least something more than just a filthy replicant. In other words, we’re all just hoping to stay human, or become human, or be born human.
As such, despite the fact that K is the one going places and doing things, by the end of the film we realise he’s just a means to an end. The important stuff is happening just out of reach, and involves important people who aren’t him. And the impact of everyone’s actions in this flick will ultimately have nothing to do with him, or be of no interest to him.
It’s not a flawed way to tell a story. The protagonist of one of my other favourite dystopian flicks, being, I have no idea what the character was called but he was played by Clive Owen in Children of Men, he does a whole bunch of stuff over the course of the flick that ultimately, we would hope, saves a baby and thus humanity, but it’s not really going to improve his lot in life one way or another, considering how it all ends up. Same, ultimately, could be said about K, but the difference here was all I could think of was that all of this could have played out with the same result, and K wouldn’t have needed to be in it at all, whereas you can’t say the same about Children of Men, where it wouldn’t have worked similarly.
So, ultimately, what you can say is that if you like seeing Ryan Gosling play glassy-eyed blank robots in movies, then you might enjoy watching him play yet another glassy-eyed void like he did in Drive like he did in Only God Forgives like he did in … everything. At least he didn’t save jazz here like he did in La La Land, or humanity, but he does save some pretty important people.
In the first flick, using all the concepts of creators and created, you had a group of synthetic people gone rogue, killing their way through those who had a hand in their creation, desperate to find a way to prevent their deliberately coded expiration dates. They even go so far as to confront their god Tyrell of the Tyrell Corporation, and then kill him when he inevitably lets them down. The worst of the replicants find something beyond vengeance, when he finds a capacity for mercy, in his very last moments, and becomes the closest to human he’s ever managed.
In Tyrell’s place here we have Niander Wallace, who speaks even more cryptically and monotonally than Tyrell did in the first flick, whose motivations are pointlessly antagonistic, as far as I can tell, but at least Jared Leto isn’t as annoying here as he has been in most of his other recent roles.
The plot, ultimately, doesn’t matter. It didn’t matter in the first flick, it doesn’t matter here. It’s far more important to create this world and then have things happen in it. The visuals and soundtrack matter far more. The visuals are stunning, and astounding, and other superlative worlds and such. The soundtrack / soundscape is disturbing and discomfiting, with enough references and reminders of the earlier flick to warm the faithful and alienate the neophyte. The performances are fine for what they are, but this is not a flick one watches for performances, or even for the action. It’s pretty clear there was a deliberate desire to not have anything but the briefest of action set pieces, which is to the flick’s benefit.
It probably doesn’t make it any easier to sit through. I pity the poor fools that tried to watch this in a cinema. I probably would have struggled to stay awake during its longeurs and other more tedious moments. It’s definitely not a boring film, since the visuals are so extreme, and the soundtrack is so obtrusive, but I wouldn’t argue that it’s an enjoyable one. Blade Runner was of its time, and this is probably a worthy successor or addition to the story, but it’s not like we’re starved for science fiction that questions the nature of identity, humanity, personhood, reality and babies.
The cynical side of me doesn’t doubt that this is the first in a stream of flicks made in this world, and, yeah, that’s probably not a good thing, unless in the next one, the protagonist is a toaster who thinks he’s a refrigerator, but finds out in the end that he’s actually an espresso machine in love with a smart phone, and oh yeah all of humanity are dead.
8 times plot holes are only plot holes if you don’t like a film out of 10
“I feel a little strange sharing a childhood story considering I was never a child.” – I know the feeling – Blade Runner 2049