The follow up to the cult classic sensation that was the original Blade Runner. Time has passed and a new generation of replicants that are programmed to obey are now being used. Some of these hunt down and retire the older generation models.
I’m actually going to preface this by pointing out I actually thought this was a pretty good movie (far better than I expected when a Blade Runner sequel was announced – and far better than many other science fiction films). The reason this preface is necessary is I’m going to pretty much tear it apart for a bit and it might seem like I’m completely against this film.
Unless you have been living completely offline it is more or less impossible to have missed the hype around the return of Blade Runner to the big screen. It has been a long, long time, as evidence by Harrison Ford’s revival of Deckard, but time has passed even in the movie universe so the real question becomes, whether lightning can strike twice for the franchise?
It seems really unfair but this movie is going to be judged against its predecessor. To put it in context, the SAO movie was not a good movie by any objective standard but for fans of SAO it hit the spot nicely and got them excited for the upcoming new series. If I were to compare Blade Runner 2049 to SAO Ordinal Scale there wouldn’t be any contest. Blade Runner is the far superior movie. And yet, I left the cinema with a wrinkle in my brow and counting off points and counterpoints on my fingers and really wondered if I had enjoyed what I had just watched. I said on Twitter my feelings were mixed and even after thinking and rethinking I’m still feeling that I genuinely don’t know about this movie.
What it comes down to is that Blade Runner 2049 has all the aesthetic sense of Blade Runner but for me failed to raise any issue or idea of note. I don’t finish the movie questioning the nature of my existence or of anything. I finish the movie wondering if Jared Leto’s character actually served any purpose and just how many wall references (both verbal and visual) I’d just been hit with. Because everything in this movie is a blunt weapon with no subtlety in either delivery or meaning and that makes this movie an entirely different beast to the original where any line of dialogue could be taken several ways and the final speech by the antagonist to Deckard could have you lost in thought for hours.
To give a concrete example there’s a holographic girl who plays the lead replicant’s girlfriend and at one point in the movie they decide they have to erase her from the home system and she’s going to be fully portable. However, as K/Joe points out, doing so means if the portable stick gets broken she’ll be gone for good. To which she responds “Just like a real girl.” This is only one of many Pinocchio references mind you and basically less than two scenes later the stick gets shattered (for no narrative purpose other than to prove that bat-shit crazy replicant is in fact crazy and evil) and then hologram girl is never mentioned again or given another instant of thought. Now, possibly her ‘death’ could have been a character catalyst for the protagonist of the story. It could have been a touching moment to have the audience reflect on the ephemeral nature of life or whether hologram girl counts as being alive. Instead, she’s a computer who blips and is gone and forgotten leaving us to wonder if maybe in a director’s cut somewhere she actually served a purpose other than screen time and a sex scene that was vaguely disturbing given it involved two replicants and a hologram.
The music is also incredibly dense and continuous. Points for the soundtrack reflecting the original film and managing to be oppressive and create a fairly continuous feeling of dread, but essentially your ears will be assailed with atonal drones and whines meanwhile every mechanical object will clunk, groan and bang and the end result is your teeth will clench and you will wonder if you remember what silence sounds like. And then you will get silence. One single scene comes along where all the music stops and we hear almost nothing and the absence is incredibly powerful because of the assault you’ve previously experienced. Once that scene is done, you’ll return to the continuous music and sound and you will miss the silence all the more. It is actually hard to say whether this is a positive point for the movie or not. It is incredibly affective. The immersion this soundtrack creates in the experience of the film is nothing short of brilliant. However, it is also an incredibly uncomfortable experience and afterwards it takes a fair while for your ears to recover from the experience.
From a visual point of view they got what made Blade Runner what it was. Things have changed but time has passed and the changes are really logical (reinforced by the short films released to show the progression of events between the films). It looks every bit as gorgeous and as immersive as the first film (okay, more so because special effects have come a long way) and it also captured the visual feel of the first film which was kind of necessary for this sequel to have any kind of success.
Like a fan fiction work, this film peppers itself with scenes and moments that add nothing to this narrative and exist either as links to the work it is emulating or to show an understanding of the world which is great but not an understanding of pacing or story telling. The opening shot of the eye is a clear throw back to the first film (as is the water element in the final fight) and yet neither really serve a place in this film. The eye is particularly problematic given it was such an iconic and necessary symbol and idea in the first film and the opening sequence grew out from this shot whereas in this film we see the eye then some power stations and we just kind of move on and never again care about close ups of pupils given in this film they don’t use the same test or technology so the eye and all that it represented (windows to the soul and all) serves no purpose. Likewise the scene of the machines dumping rubbish in the wasteland. Great, the world is filled in and there’s a lot of details, but this adds unnecessary time to an already overly long film and contributes nothing to the movie. It is like the additional scenes in the original Star Wars movies. More there because they can rather than there for any purpose.
I haven’t really gotten into the characters and the story and that is because they work. They fit the world, the story is a fair enough continuation of the world and its events (even if Deckard’s inclusion was more one of pandering to fans than actually necessary for the narrative). What it isn’t, is something exceptional with characters who you will remember well after the film. Sure Deckard comes back but this isn’t the Deckard of the first film who left such a strong impression. And no-one comes close to Rutger Hauer’s impressive and awe-inspiring performance from the first film.
However, we have ended up with a second Blade Runner movie. It is a pretty good movie and makes some great choices in sound and visuals with a functional story and characters. Could it thematically have been more powerful? Definitely. Could the characters have been more memorable and had more impressive dialogue? Absolutely. Am I nit-picking just because I can? Yes, yes I am.
But here’s the thing. If I go to a Sword Art Online movie I go in expecting it to kind of be rubbish and I get something that is kind of rubbish but fun and I walk out happy. Blade Runner is a title in the science fiction world where love it or hate it, there’s certain expectations built around it. Any sequel was going to be measured against those expectations. For me it fell short, but wasn’t a crushing disappointment. It did well enough but if only it had been better.
Alright, over to you. If you’ve seen the film what are your thoughts?
Thanks for reading.
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Karandi James.without t