Movie review: ‘Blade Runner’ is all style, little substance
Director Denis Villeneuve issued our marching orders — “preserve the experience for the audience” — in a message to Boston critics ahead of a screening of “Blade Runner 2049,” the much-anticipated sequel to Ridley Scott’s influential 1982 sci-fi gem. With such a directive, you’d think something worthy of spoiling is coming. There isn’t. The year 2049 can have its movie. I’ll happily pretend it never happened and just stick to Scott’s neo-noir classic. This entry ... well.... since there’s no point in describing the plot, I’ll share some of my “experiences” watching this grueling 164-minute sequel. Yes, you read that right — it’s a bladder buster.
I laughed in inappropriate places, like when one character is killed. I popped two Advil around the beginning of the second hour because Hans Zimmer’s score is savage, and not in that cool way 10-year-old boys use the word to mean “awesome.” It’s loud ... and I’m not too old. About half way through, I looked over to check on my colleague, Bob, to see if he was sleeping. He wasn’t. But the confused look on his face spoke volumes. Then I was frustrated. Ryan Gosling (“La La Land”), upon whose shoulders rests this whole dystopian enterprise, fails to draw me in. Gosling’s character, the titular blade runner named “K,” hunts older-model replicants — bioengineered androids. He broods A LOT. He’s playing a robot — and it shows. And that’s just boring. His face is pretty, but it’s a slog spending nearly three hours with a blankless expression. He’s neither dangerous nor urgent. In other words, he’s no Deckard (Harrison Ford).
Villeneuve also neuters the noirish mood that made the original, well, savage (this time I do mean “awesome.”) This sequel is, simply put, an overwrought action movie set in a desolate future 30 years after the events in the first film. It’s no different than the recent dud “Ghost in the Shell,” which incidentally ripped off the original “Blade Runner.”
Further marring my “experience” are writers Hampton Fancher (“Blade Runner”) and Michael Green (“Alien: Covenant”) for all their boring exposition about, well, I can’t tell you, lest it ruin your “experience.” When the script — FINALLY — gets around to Deckard, Ford props up the proceedings with some signs of life — but that energy is fleeting and my thoughts were wandering to how I could make my meatballs tastier. I’m not sure why I thought of meatballs ... but I did. Clearly hungry, I grabbed an energy bar from my bag to fuel up for the final, unsatisfying stretch.
Scott serves as an executive producer on the film, so he’s not blameless in this lifeless pursuit of style over substance. But no argument, the film looks terrific courtesy of uber-cinematographer and Villeneuve regular Roger Deakins (“Sicario,” “Arrival), who creates a gray, cloudy, dusty world with pops of muted colors (yellows, blues, oranges) mixed with neons. From the flying Peugeots to the life-sized holograms of naked girls, the movie is a spectacle, something to see for sure, but there’s very little to feel and that falls squarely on Villeneuve (“Sicario,” “Prisoners,” “Arrival”), whose movies I usually dig.
What sci-fi does best is shed light on our fear and conflict with the great unknown. In this case, the film bats around the horror of not knowing if you’re real or fake. “We’re all just looking out for something real,” says Robin Wright, pitch-perfect as the icy police lieutenant. Some creation mythology is also sprinkled about. Jared Leto pontificates as much, playing Niander Wallace, the head of the outfit that took over after the Tyrell Corp. went belly up. Wallace builds a new generation of replicants. The movie wears its philosophies on its sleeve, but somewhere in the script is a cool detective story that’s actually ... wait for it ... engaging. Too bad Villeneuve eschews developing this to instead take on what he deems meatier pursuits.
In some impressive movie magic, Ana de Armas, plays K’s digital companion, Joi, a hologram who serves at the pleasure of K. With some severe bangs, Sylvia Hoeks is K’s kick-butt adversary, Luv. Points for casting a woman in this part. Also notable is Mackenzie Davis as a “pleasure model” called Mariette. She resembles Darryl Hannah’s Pris from the original, minus the acrobatics.
Some advice: If you must see “Blade Runner 2049” then do yourself a favor and watch the original first. Thirty years ago that movie left moviegoers pondering the burning question: Is Deckard a man or machine? By the end of “Blade Runner 2049,” you don’t even care.
— Dana Barbuto may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @dbarbuto_Ledger.
“Blade Runner 2049”
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Jared Leto, Ford, Ana de Armas, Robin Wright, Sylvia Hoeks.
(R for violence, some sexuality, nudity and language.)