Sunday, January 14, 2018

Blade Runner 2049 Loses its Humanity: A Film Review

*full disclosure: a Blu-ray copy of Blade Runner 2049 was provided by the film's publicity arm.

Director: Denis Villeneuve.

Writers: Hampton Fancher, Michael Green, Hampton Fancher and Philip K. Dick.

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Dave Bautista, Robin Wright and Ana de Armas.

This reviewer has been spoiled by films of the '80s, including Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1982). This follow-up to Scott's exploration of neo-noir and in what makes humans human takes place thirty years after the original. Now, replicants or artificial humans nearly dominate the landscape. Humans hardly exist in this sequel. In the film's story, a Blade Runner is still retiring obsolete replicants; he is also searching for the identity of a child and his own origins. The film asks a few existential question, on whether human simulations are more human than humans. Yet, its long run time and plodding pace stretch out this questioning for much too long. A villain is reduced to a prattling lunatic. And, Blade Runner 2049 never rises to the former film's huge heights.

Of course, this second film also draws from author Philip K. Dick's work on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? In a future Earth, replicants are used for slave labour. In the first film, these humanoid slaves were relegated to off-worlds, were they would work or fight for their human masters. In this sequel, the replicants have almost taken over the world. Most of the characters, in this second film, are replicants. Still, Blade Runners hunt down and terminate older models, who are less than compliant. The protagonist, only known as K (Ryan Gosling), stumbles upon a mystery, an old pile of bones in a trunk. The origins of these bones and there relation to a child set the film's central plot in motion. Meanwhile, a corporate mogul wants to keep these secrets to himself. There is a lot going on, but none if it is all that interesting.

The villain Wallace (Jared Leto) is one of the more poorly written villains, in recent film history. He is blind and in charge of supplying off-worlds with slave labour. In one scene, a replicant is created and emerges from an artificial womb. Wallace kills his creation just moments later, while talking nonsense. All viewers will know is that this character is destructive. But, is he even sane? Later in the film, Wallace speaks with Deckard (Harrison Ford). There is more nonsensical dialogue from Wallace as he orders the death of another one of his creations. Replicants are disposable in his eyes. But, why create something, only to destroy it several minutes later? This villain's actions are bizarre and he is less than motivated to stop K's search for the truth.

The first film was great at developing the neo-noir film subgenre. This one, despite its budget, is unable to develop much of anything, especially tension. One would think a film titled Blade Runner 2049 would involve another hunter chasing down replicants. There is only one series of scenes in which K retires an artificial human. The rest of the film is spent with K, tracking down the aforementioned child. Action is relegated to a few scenes. Meanwhile, there is lots of time for K to interact with his programmed girlfriend, Joi (Ana de Armas). Both characters desire to be human, which is part of the film's driving force. The second part of the film is especially tiresome. Here, K must share scenes with Deckard and the story's progression slows because of this screen time split. The visuals, in Blade Runner 2049, are exceptional, particularly the shooting in a future Las Vegas. Still, the film (much like K) is missing soul and even emotion.

This film fan has been spoiled by the first film. The original Blade Runner made this viewer question what was and was not real. Philip K. Dick's work also explored what it means to be human. This second film offers a mostly emotionless protagonist. He is interesting in only that he wants to explore his past and whether his memories are real or implanted. Other characters are much less interesting, like Wallace. A minor character and assassin, Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), is more intriguing than Wallace. At least Luv does not waste screen time with meaningless platitudes. Everything is much more obvious in this latest Blade Runner. And, the whole replicants being more human than humans subtext is never really developed. If murder and sociopathy makes one more human, then this reviewer would choose to face a Blade Runner's bullet, rather than this dystopian, overly pretentious future.

Overall: 6.75 out of 10.

Wallace: a poet or an imbecile? You decide, in this short titled "2036: Nexus Dawn:" Wallace in "2036: Nexus Dawn"

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