Stunning, Moody ‘Blade Runner 2049’ Has Trouble Establishing An Emotional Connection. Spoilers Below.
Creatively speaking, Blade Runner 2049 nearly hit the mark; its box office is another story. Though it’s not a terrible film by any means, it failed to connect with me the way the 1982 original did with its poetic “Tears in Rain” speech.
The film has plenty of mood. Tons of it. And yet, landing emotional beats with the audience is where it ultimately stumbles. Director Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival suffered from a similar fate: heavy on mood, light on emotion.
I’d also add that Blade Runner 2049 premiered in an environment where Hollywood continues to compete with sportsball to see who can be the most hated form of entertainment in America.
Despite my criticism below, I didn’t hate Blade Runner 2049. In fact, I think it stands a great chance of winning awards. It’s entirely possible that it will become a cult favorite over time as the 1982 installment did. I admire the effort and readily admit it could grow on me with more viewings. It surpassed Ghost in the Shell in its visual beauty, which itself featured a beautiful canvas lacking the emotive punch.
The prologue mentions a collapsing ecosystem in the 2020s. So you’ve got overt Climate Change messaging, backed up by unusually heavy rain and snow that’s out of place for Los Angeles. Raise your hand if you’ve had it with all the climate alarmism. This particular world is already dark by design. They didn’t need to beat us on the head with it. In Philip K. Dick’s source material Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? it was radioactive fallout from nuclear war that wrecked Earth.
With a running time of roughly three hours, not including the twenty minutes of trailers/commercials/etiquette reminders, it’s asking you to sit for a while. While I’ve certainly seen slower, more boring movies, this could’ve been much shorter. What’s strange is it didn’t feel as long once the end credits rolled, but I did look at my watch more than a few times during the screening. I think the staggering beauty of what I saw helped pass the time. That color palette, cinematography and production design. Wow.
Harrison Ford added weight to this film from his mere presence, delivering some of its best lines, but I kept thinking he was showing his age. A close approximation of 1982 Rick Deckard this was not. Instead, we got the guy who played him 35 years ago trying to be 1982 Deckard. His almost medically gruff, old guy voice and pained movements were somewhat cringe. Clear your throat, bro!
Robin Wright, though great on House of Cards, had no business being cast as a tough, liquor-swilling LAPD boss. Who wants to see Claire Underwood running the LAPD in 2049? Blade Runner’s noir gumshoe mythology calls for a weathered, male actor in that role. But, at least she failed miserably in her job. That’s diversity and inclusion for you!
Niander Wallace, the chief villain played by Jared Leto, isn’t satisfied with only 9 off-world colonies and wants replicants to procreate on their own to ease the limitations on his complex replicant manufacturing process to conquer the universe. This is the central story engine of the movie. It’s not hard to imagine Mark Zuckerberg sitting in for Wallace.
Having acquired the bankrupt Tyrell Corp., you’d also think Wallace would have learned Tyrell’s secret for making replicants who can birth themselves. Was that secret data lost in the Blackout of 2022?
Wallace fails to make prototypes who can birth replicants the way humans birth babies. Instead, he looks for the only known child to have been made by two replicants (or a replicant mating with a human). He strangely doesn’t seem concerned about a replicant revolt; he probably should be.
I don’t know if Tyrell was secretly working on replicants that could reproduce as humans do. Life extension beyond four years? A bit more believable because a limited lifespan was built in with earlier Nexus models and this would be an upgrade respecting the original intent of replicants as disposably-timed labor. Tyrell even admitted to failed life extension attempts in his last conversation before being crushed to death by a desperate Roy Batty. Scribes Hampton Fancher and Michael Green took liberties on this, liberties that stray a little too far. Tyrell, far from being an upstanding guy in the 1982 film, seemed mostly comfortable with replicants as they were: lights burning twice as bright, lasting only half as long. But hey, Fancher and Green pushed boundaries. Replicants having kids just didn’t fit the way I thought it would.
Moreover, for an Earth that has a war brewing beneath the surface between humans and replicants, we certainly don’t see a whole lot of humans. More exposition about daily life in 2049 would’ve been welcome. The cast is mostly dominated by replicants. Humanity itself looks like it’s close to croaking everywhere you look.
At one point Blade Runner K, played by a sullen and wooden Ryan Gosling, looks like he’s going to channel his inner Neo by leading a reverse Matrix revolution. This side plot didn’t materialize. Good. Blade Runner has always been less about humans warring with replicants and more about what defines being human.
Even though I thought it was unnecessary overkill for Wallace to try shipping Deckard to an off-world colony for tougher interrogations to learn his baby-making secrets, it would’ve been nice to see that space launch facility off the coast of Los Angeles, or even get a glimpse of these off-world colonies we keep hearing about. Some of these colonies even sound luxurious. Because Earth in 2049 sucks, what does a pleasant celestial colony look like? Just as the Alien franchise barely sets foot on Earth (prior to Prometheus, no Alien movie had any scenes on Earth), Blade Runner seems determined to keep the audience trapped here.
Eventually, we learn K is just a decoy for Deckard’s offspring carrying duplicated real memories (and other duplicated markers) to shield the identity of the real golden child from Wallace. K then lays down to rest on snowy steps after taking an exhausted Deckard to his daughter’s bubble home/office (she has a weak immune system), where she creates fake memories for replicants.
We don’t know if K dies from wounds he suffers while rescuing Deckard from Wallace’s replicant henchwoman Luv, but we do hear the gently remixed Tears in Rain track play, evoking that classic scene when Roy Batty dies. Again, more needless frustration and confusion. Kill K or don’t kill K. Decide, don’t waffle. Green says K did die and was shocked to learn anyone thought otherwise. Killing K without this confusion arguably would’ve provided a solid emotional payoff for the audience, especially if he was Deckard’s son.
Perhaps the purpose behind Blade Runner 2049 was to show us a moody, emotionless, beautiful and ugly future that mirrors our own 2017?
I did dig the big, beautiful sea wall. America 2017 will take two of those. One for each border.