By Mark McEvoy
I first watched Blade Runner: The Director’s Cut as a 9-year-old child, lying on the ground in front of the television as my father detailed the vast improvements between this version and the theatrical release. I watched a visual masterpiece, questioning how they achieved such a futuristic feel, and also realising that this future was extremely dark and moody. My 9-year-old self could not fully appreciate a story of this depth – its post-apocalyptic themes connecting to important questions of identity, and what constitutes a life. Its sequel, Blade Runner 2049, is not quite as subtle. While it has lavish scenery, and impressive computer generated imagery, I just wasn’t filled with the same wonder as my 9-year-old self.
K (Ryan Gosling) is a Blade Runner; tasked seeking out bioengineered humans, called replicants, and ‘retiring’ them. Whilst doing his job, K finds the remains of a replicant who has given birth. He is tasked with finding the miracle child and destroying it before causing all-out war. At the same time Wallace (who has bought the Tyrell Corporation which manufactures replicants) and his super replicant Luv want to find the child themselves, so they can mass produce androids to meet growing demand.
Roger Deakins’ cinematography is the true artwork of the piece – from the bleak, snowy confines of Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista) to the radioactive dystopian American cities filled with oversized statues and ghost like buildings. The images are vast and luscious but fail to cover up the holes in the plot and the painfully clichéd acting. This is coupled with sections blatantly taken from other films and the nauseating ‘and then this happens’ plot twists.
Gosling seems to be playing the same part sporadically since 2011: a moody morally ambiguous character who is conflicted and says very little, and when he does express himself it is in a monotone voice. This is a far cry from his challenging independent roles in ‘Half Nelson’ and ‘Lars and the Real Girl’. K seems wooden and inconsequential. By the end I felt less for the character than I did at the beginning, which is a stunning feat considering the screen time he takes up.
The plot devices, mixed with the multitude of twists, left me bored and uninterested. It was as if the writers were adding pieces as they were going along. Some of the twists also seemed unnecessary to the story, including the introduction of Deckard (Harrison Ford) which – like much of the film’s storyline – is overly nostalgic. In one scene Wallace (Jared Leto) delivers an elongated and frivolous monologue which I can barely remember – in stark contrast to Rutger Hauer’s monologue in the original, which I recall in its entirety – followed by a wonderful bit of nostalgia tinged computer imagery. That’s Blade Runner 2049 in a microcosm.
While this is not a bad film by any stretch of the imagination, it is not a very good one either. We live in an age where originality in filmmaking has been replaced by a need for nostalgia. Blade Runner 2049 is a film which is heavy on style and beauty, but low on substance and storytelling. Perhaps because this story – like so many others we see in big budget productions – was told already, a long time ago. And while it also oozed with style, the original Blade Runner maintained its ambiguity and sense of wonder, something the sequel sadly fails to do.