Non-Spoiler Review – Overview
Blade Runner 2049 is a perfect example of a movie where the whole is not greater than the sum of its parts. Sadly, as a long-time fan of the original Blade Runner, when the visuals of the new movie faded to black at the end, it is only worthy of a TWO STAR (Fair) rating.
This is sad because it had all the elements to be a four or five-star classic movie in its own right. Ryan Gosling’s performance is excellent! Also, top marks go to Denis Villeneuve’s directing, the music by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch and a special shout-out to Dennis Gasner’s stunning production design. However, the filmmakers forgot one basic thing above anything else. When the credits roll does the moviegoer feel they had a good experience—was it time well spent? It doesn’t matter how great the performances, or how beautiful the movie. When you put it all together, does it work? No. The first two acts were fulfilling, but more importantly, by the end I left the movie theater disappointed, dejected and not interested in returning their Blade Runner world again.
If you plan to see the movie, don't read anymore because there are spoilers below.
Spoiler Review – Details
So what happened? How do you spend $185M to make a movie based on a sci-fi classic and fail?
For any storyteller, the two most important parts are the beginning and the end. If you don’t hook your audience at the beginning, it doesn’t matter how brilliant the movie is, they won’t stick around to see it. Conversely, it doesn’t matter how amazing the beginning (or the middle) is, if you fall into a muddled, depressing mess at the end, that’s all the audience is going to remember walking out the theater, and that’s what they’re going to tell their friends.
Ryan Gosling’s performance as K is outstanding. The strength of his acting, much of it internal, uplifted the entire movie to the next level. He was the perfect casting choice and I can’t imagine anyone else doing a better job.
Denis Villeneuve’s directing, Hans Zimmer and Benjamin’s Wallfisch’s musical score and Dennis Gasner’s production design visually create a stunning world. They not only return you to the look and feel of the original Blade Runner, but expand on it. The movie is 2 hours and 43 minutes long, but never once feels like it.
I must also mention the great performances of Ana de Armas as K’s holographic girlfriend Joi and Sylvia Hoeks’s sinister replicant, Luv. Movie icon Harrison Ford (that’s what he is), and Robin Wright are always good in whatever they do, no matter how brief the screen time.
There are plenty of scenes in the movie of the technology of the world that is really amazing: the three-way sex foreplay scene, a Frank Sinatra hologram juke-box, the A.I. hologram Joi sequence when they're shot out of the sky, the memory building virtual world sequence, and, my favorite, the Vegas showroom scene complete with holograms of Prince, Marilyn Monroe, and Elvis Presley.
Jared Leto’s Wallace was the main baddie in the movie, but every time I saw him, I felt he was nothing more than a prop. The writers were like, “He’s the bad guy so let’s have him give long, cryptic speeches like a bad guy.” That’s what he did—gave speeches that were supposedly deep and sinister, but I was bored.
Impossible Movie For the Uninitiated?
There was a nice little scene with Edward James Olmos who played his same character from 30 years ago in the original Blade Runner. As the scene ended with his placing an origami animal on the table, I smiled. However, if you didn’t see the first Blade Runner, the scene would have meant nothing. They wouldn’t have known who he was or what the origami thing was all about.
In fact, if someone hadn’t seen the original Blade Runner movie, I’m not sure they’d understand half of what was going on in the movie. That’s not a good thing. I’ve seen the original Blade Runner a ton of times and it inspired my Liquid Cool cyber-noir detective series, but you don’t make a $185M movie for Blade Runner super fans like me. You create a work that keeps the super fans and brings in new movie-goers.
So many movies have been derailed because they take the audience where they want to go, the ending makes no sense, or worse, the audience could care less about how the filmmakers wrap up the conflict. Blade Runner 2049 ends with a bit of each. It introduces the concept of replicants who can be born—the pairing of a human and replicant. A replicant is an organic android, complete with serial numbers on their cells. The concept in a sci-fi world is believable, but procreation with a human is not. Further, the movie suggests that male replicant-female replicant reproduction is possible. Sorry, we aren’t God, and you don’t have to be religious to say that (say, ‘We mere humans don’t have the infinite power of the universe’). This was the big deal that the movie ends with, their payoff to the mystery—very anticlimactic for me.
The other two things connected to this “big deal” is the concept of a replicant Messiah who would lead a replicant rebellion against humanity. Oh, boy. Messiahs again—very Star Wars. And a replicant rebellion? What you’re really saying Hollywood is you want me to come back for another 3-hour Blade Runner movie. Sorry, not interested.
Bottomline is the movie’s ending was depressing and disappointing. So we, the audience in the theater, groaned and left the theater. Not exactly how you want Blade Runner fans to leave your movie. It doesn’t matter that critics gave it 89% on Rotten Tomatoes—they’re all a bunch of replicants themselves if you ask me. We came to the theater wanting to like the movie and we didn’t like it. If you can’t please us, it’s doubtful you can please a wider audience.
(Not ugly at all, just two other points)
One aspect of Blade Runner that made it so unique and far ahead of its time was that it was the only sci-fi movie I can think of that accurately reflected the demographics of the future—that is, a much greater Asian population. The media talks so much about the growing Hispanic population. Yes, that’s true, but after that America will be much more Asian than any other demographic. Blade Runner 2049 seemed completely off the mark in this regard and regressed to join the masses of other sci-fi movies.
Naked Neon Holographic Women
I had a problem with this for a lot of reasons. Firstly, I’m sure regions of America will be more libertine in its sexual attitudes in the future, but I doubt America would have giant nude female holographic signs everywhere. Is it the same Hollywood objectifying women again? No. I wouldn't label this movie as such in any way because of the overall strength and quality of the female roles. They were just off-the-mark in their world-building. It struck me as the filmmakers saying, “Hey, look what we can do with CGI” rather than a plausible portrayal of the future. Second, the nude female holograms we see seem to be only of Joi. Okay, a powerful megacorporation wants the masses to buy its holographic A.I. product, but there are no other models at all, no other ethnicities? Not likely. Third, there aren't holographic advertisement of men, the latest hovercar, etc. No male Joi? Again, not believable.
There's my review. We waited for the new Blade Runner movie. It arrived with so much potential going for it but didn't deliver. Very sad, indeed.