My grade: B-
As a fan of the original Blade Runner, I thought this film was pretty average. Which is a shame because the first half of it was intriguing. There are so many ideas and themes of what it is to be human thrown around in this movie that it’s hard to know where to begin. This review contains mild spoilers, so read at your own risk if you haven’t seen it yet.
I’ll start by describing what was good about it. The visuals were stunning, especially in the first hour, of Los Angeles in 2049. Dave Bautista was fantastic in his five minutes of screen time near the beginning. Ryan Gosling is always great and he did not disappoint as Officer K, the Blade Runner who was created in a lab as a replicant to hunt down the Nexus 8 replicants. The subtlety of his acting is marvelous, so good for Ryan. I enjoyed his AI holographic girlfriend, Joi, and I was disappointed her character was absent, for plot reasons, during the second half of the film. I liked the chemistry between K and Joi, even though they couldn’t actually touch. That stuff was very interesting and I wanted more of it. What is the extent of their relationship? I liked the part where K’s sexual appetite begins to change after learns that he may be the child of two replicants and, therefore, more human than he realized. The scene where he decides to hire a prostitute for Joi to sync her body up with so that the two of them could get intimate reminded me in a good way of the Spike Jonze film, Her. I like that K is satisfied with a holographic girlfriend until he learns he may be human. There was so much more than could have been explored here after the scene with Joi’s stand-in. Sadly, the film chose a different route away from this interesting plot point.
Unfortunately, that’s about it. Although it took the replicant conceit of the original film in some interesting new ideas such as an underground replicant rebellion, the film ultimately failed me whenever it tried to serve as a sequel to the original film, which was most the second half. Harrison Ford seemed like he was just there for the ride and a paycheck, mostly appearing to scowl at the camera in his scenes. He didn’t even appear until an hour-and-a-half into the film, but when he finally shows up the film makes the odd decision to shift the majority of the screen time to him. When Ryan Gosling appeared again after a chunk of the film focusing on Ford, I thought “Oh yeah, Ryan Gosling is in this movie too.” That’s not a good sign. The idea of having K possibly be Rick Deckard’s (Ford’s) son was interesting because it seemed his character arc was the opposite of Deckard’s character arc from the first film. In the first film, Deckard thought he was human, but he’s unbeknownst to him he’s a replicant. Here, K knows he’s not human but discovers evidence that he may be. Unfortunately, the film squanders this idea in favor of boring action scenes between Gosling and the she-male replicant, Luv. At two hours and forty-three minutes, the film was far too long to hold my interest, mostly due to pacing issues. The pacing for the first hour was great, but it languished near the second half. That, and too many porny shots of topless women ultimately made the movie a dud for me. The first film was an inventive neo noir film complete with enjoyable detective-style narration by Ford in the theatrical version (which the Director’s Cut version completely does away with. In my opinion, a travesty). This film was just shot as if it were…a movie. There’s no inventive noir style here.
Watch it for the cool visuals, the intriguing first half and some interesting thematic questions about what it means to love and be human, but don’t get your hopes up. Although I enjoyed the relationship between K and Joi the most, I should probably just rent the movie Her again to satisfy that itch. The pacing issues in Blade Runner 2049 make long stretches in the second half a snore-fest. I’m not kidding, I nearly fell asleep a couple times in the theater. My advice? Amp up on some caffeine before seeing it and rent it on Redbox.