I like the final cut (the only version I’ve seen) of Blade Runner. I don’t exactly love it, nor hold it up on the sci-fi masterpiece pedestal like some do, but I recognize its impact. It has a wonderfully immersive atmosphere and world, while being a masterwork of practical effects, quite possibly the pinnacle achievement in that field. However, I never found the character of Deckard to be terribly interesting, and the pacing is terribly inconsistent. Even then, Ridley Scott still crafted an incredibly well realized sci-fi world that’s influence is still felt today. Unfortunately, the guy never really knows when to quit, so of course we have a sequel executive produced by him more than thirty years later! 

In Blade Runner 2049, it’s the year the title says it is in doomy and gloomy Los Angeles. Thirty years since the events of the original film, bioengineered humans called replicants have become more advanced and are now integrated into normal society, after primarily being used for slave labor. K (Ryan Gosling) is a replicant working as a blade runner for the LAPD, his job being to kill escaped older model replicants, which leads him upon a mysterious container. Inside this container is the body of a replicant who gave birth, which is supposed to be impossible. Obsessed with finding out the body’s origins, K finds out it has a connection to former blade runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), who has been missing for years. As K goes on to locate Deckard, he makes discoveries along the way that reveal clues to his own mysterious past. 

The entire point of Blade Runner and Phillip K. Dick’s original novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, of which this is all based, was to explore the nature of humanity and life, asking what truly makes us human. Replicants are technically machines, but are they truly capable of emotions? Blade Runner 2049 expands on those themes more, especially with our lead character K being a replicant himself. Replicants now being integrated into normal society adds an interesting dynamic to the story and world, where they all seem fully aware of how artificial they truly are. Some of them try so desperately to be human to the point of having holographic lovers. There’s an interesting scene where K has a prostitute stand inside his “girlfriend” Joi’s (Ana de Armas) hologram in order to act like he’s actually making love. There are a lot of scenes like this that really explore the concepts of humanity, identity, and sentience. The problem is, since we’re watching almost nothing but artificial intelligence interact with each other, it all comes across as completely inert and lifeless. What I’m seeing on the screen is really neat and interesting, but I never had any emotional connection at all. 

While later story developments along the way end up making K a bit more intriguing, he’s a total bore for the first hour of the film. Ryan Gosling is great, playing to his usual stoic strengths and getting to show some nice range later on, but his character gets pretty much nothing to do aside from go to location to location and find clues. The original Blade Runner was like this too, but there was this humanity with Deckard, Gaff, and some of the other characters to at least keep it from being a complete emotional flatline. Deckard also had Rutger Hauer’s Roy Batty (one of the few interesting characters of that film) to go up against. Here, neither he nor K get anybody notable to confront, aside from Jared Leto appearing in three scenes to play a comical James Bond villain. Too bad Deckard doesn’t get much to do in this one, aside from deliver some exposition and punch Ryan Gosling in the face a few times. He’s really more of a contrived way to wrap up the plot and bring back an original character. At least Harrison Ford was great and fun to watch. Isn’t it nice when he actually cares? 

It’s not until the middle of the second act where things started getting in motion but by that time, it was too late for me. Director Denis Villeneuve has made a name for himself for his methodical pacing, but at 163 minutes, I was really feeling its length. The original isn’t even 2 hours long, so I wonder why the screenwriters felt this needed to be so overstuffed. Some scenes drag on for far too long where the point could have been quickly communicated. I give it points for at least being consistently slow, though, unlike the original which suddenly turns into an action film during the last half hour. At least it’s beautiful to look at, with the worldbuilding being as immersive as ever. You can definitely tell the world has decayed over time from the last film, with a lot more smoke and smog, as opposed to rain. The production design and visual effects are especially terrific, really engrossing you in this bleak and depressing future. You can never go wrong with master of shadows Roger A. Deakins, who gorgeously captures the desolate landscapes and enormous Los Angeles skylines. Really could have dialed down on that smog, though. 

It’s certainly one of the most beautiful films I’ve seen in recent memory, and Blade Runner is also an incredibly beautiful film. It’s one of the many aspects that makes Blade Runner 2049 practically the perfect companion piece to the original, for better and worse. It’s gorgeously shot with immaculate production design and effects, interesting worldbuilding, and thought-provoking themes. On the other hand, it’s poorly paced with flat characterization and an overall lack of focus. Just like a replicant, it tries so hard to be full of life and purpose, but never really gets there. 


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