It even replicates Harrison Ford
By David Kennedy
The new Blade Runner movie has been out for a while now, and so far it’s managed to avoid the usual criticisms against movies of its kind (remakes, reboots, and sequels) by actually having a unique style and tone. Critics love it with some calling it an improvement on the original. Regardless of financial success, or whether or not it’s actually good, Blade Runner: 2049 is anything but a lazy nostalgia play.
That’s not to say it isn’t a cash grab. It’s a reboot, of course it’s a cash grab. This particular cash grab just happens to have scraped together more artistic integrity than most, mostly by borrowing it from the well-established names of those who worked on it. Director Denis Villeneuve, a veteran of cerebral sci-fi (Arrival), brings his trademark style of slow-burning suspense bookended with abrupt violence. Hans Zimmer is here doing what he always does, which means a lot of ominous orchestral flares, but with more synthesizers this time. Ryan Gosling plays the titular blade runner, a robot with feelings, which is pretty much what he does in every movie anyway. Everyone here seems to be doing whatever they do best.
By having all of these distinct artistic voices, Blade Runner: 2049 has managed to almost completely distance itself from the original in terms of its aesthetic. No more cigarette smoke billowing up into the frame while mellow synth-jazz plays in the background. No more claustrophobic street views of futuristic Chinatown. No more atmospheric use of spotlights and heavy shadows. Overall I think these changes are a positive. Personally, I prefer a reboot that brings something new to an old story rather than ones coasting off stale nostalgia. Here I think we have something very new.
Not to suggest that this isn’t a Blade Runner movie. There are a few notable returns from the original. Hampton Fancher, the guy who wrote the first Blade Runner script, co-wrote this movie, and I think it actually manages to build on the original concept in a few new directions. In particular, the idea of false memories is explored in depth, which brings a lot of fresh pathos to the story. Not to mention that Ryan Gosling has a digital girlfriend, played by Ana de Armas, which is also pretty close to something he’s done before (Lars and the Real Girl). Her presence brings a unique bittersweetness to his character, and does a lot to make the viewer question Gosling’s perspective. Overall, the story is, just as stated before, a slow, cerebral science fiction thriller with brief action scenes throughout.
Another return is that of a particular scene from the original movie which is directly referred back to a few times, by which I mean the audio, and, at one point, the video, from the scene is played for the characters. This seems, at first glance like a blatant nostalgia plug, but it actually manages to incorporate itself very well into the story, even contributing to some of the film’s most human moments. Then there is the actual, most blatant nostalgia plug in the whole movie: Harrison Ford.
It’s okay because Harrison Ford is also possibly the best thing about this movie. In the middle of all the robots, and all the people who act like robots, Ford shines through as the most human character in the whole thing. Ford plays Rick Deckard thirty years after the events of the first film. Deckard is now an unhinged, paranoid old man hiding out from society in an abandoned casino. He is cynical, drunk, and lamenting his lost love who he mutters about in most of his dialogue. All of this was further enhanced by the Vegas setting. Holographic Elvis shows up to sing Can’t Help Falling in Love. It’s pretty great. I was a little irritated every second Jared Leto was on screen being the most annoying kind of method actor, but Harrison Ford balanced it out for me.
Speaking of Jared Leto, this was a nearly three hour movie, so there have to be a few things about it I didn’t like. Jared Leto is a big one. He plays the new leader of the Tyrell Corporation, and the majority of his dialogue is made up of grandiose speeches about creating life and advancing the human race. Overall, I thought he was a bland villain, made more annoying by an overstated performance. Also, he’s supposed to be blind so there’s a fake looking fog effect over his eyes the whole time.
The runtime is also a problem. As much as I enjoyed it, this movie had its more dispensable moments, and the extra length is felt. Especially through Villeneuve’s love of flyover shots of desolate landscapes set to ominous music.
All in all, Blade Runner: 2049 accomplishes the mission of a reboot and leaves me thinking about how a copy can be just as authentic as the original.