Monday, October 23, 2017

Blade Runner 2049

Alternate Title:  Ryan Gosling's Sad Face
One sentence synopsis:  A replicant blade runner becomes embroiled in a mystery involving Deckard, Rachel, and what befell them after the events of the first movie.

Things Havoc liked:  Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to a very special edition of the General's Post. Why is it very special? Well, because this film represents a staggering milestone, the 300th review on this little project of mine, a number so astounding that I can scarcely believe it's real. Three hundred times, we have sat down to consider the movies on offer from our local theaters, amidst pain, pleasure, rapturous applause and bilious hate. And so before anything else happens here, before we undertake the review that actually lies before us, I want to take an opportunity to thank each and every one of you who are reading this, whether this is your first review or your 300th, for all of your kind words and support, and even for your angry denunciations of my terrible, terrible opinions. I have no idea what has driven me to make three hundred of these damn things, but I know that without you, I would not have even amassed a single one. So thank you all, from the bottom of my cold, ossified heart, and let us now consider a remake of a film made the year I was born.

I was not looking forward to a remake of Blade Runner, and I expect every one of you can easily figure out why. The trailers for one thing made the movie look like an action movie version of the original, but more importantly, the track record for nostalgia-based remake/sequels to Ridley Scott classics is not at all a good one (consider the double-suck-whamy of Prometheus and Alien Covenant if you don't believe me). Harisson Ford has been phoning in all of his older roles for the last few years, so that gave me no hope, and while I like Ryan Gosling and... respect (?) Dennis Villeneuve, that alone wasn't enough to make me excited about the prospect of them ruining another old classic. Still, I confess to having been at least a bit intrigued by the possibility that they might do Blade Runner justice, and went to see it anyway, and... well whatever else the movie is, it is certainly not the Total Recall/Robocop remake-disaster that I was afraid of. Far, far from it.

Set thirty years (obviously) after the original film, Blade Runner 2049 starts things off in an interesting manner right off the bat by giving us a replicant as a main protagonist. Not the is-he-or-isn't-he speculative replicant question that the first movie spawned (something helped by its fifty-seven different "authoritative" versions), but an honest-to-god, established-as-such-right-from-scene-one replicant in the form of KD6-3.7, an advanced, perfectly obedient replicant played by Ryan Gosling and his ten thousand sad faces. This decision immediately makes the film more interesting, as it totally changes the perspective we have on the universe. KD6-3.7, or K for short, is a Blade Runner, tracking down escaped replicants and 'retiring' them by force. A more advanced model than the rebellious replicants of the previous film, K is exceptionally good at his job, which affords him the opportunity to live independently and carry on a relationship with his holographic AI girlfriend Joi (Cuban actress Ana de Armas), a development which, if nothing else, proves that someone in the writing staff saw 2013's Her. Gosling plays the character the way he generally plays every character, guarded, quiet, and with a face made of sadness, but as always, Gosling has chosen his projects well, and this is a movie that befits such choices. His character rapidly becomes embroiled in mystery and conspiracy, as the remains are discovered of a replicant who seems to have died in childbirth, the implications of which are many and disturbing to the status quo. But Gosling plays the character very cool all along, neither affecting a robotic monotone, nor giving in to the sorts of loud emotions that don't really fit a Blade Runner film.

The rest of the cast does reasonably well. De Armas' AI hologram manages to exceed the rather thin material she's given, portraying an AI trying to understand and push the boundaries of her experience. I joked before about Her, but the movie contains a scene halfway through where Joi hires another replicant to be her physical proxy for an evening, a scene far trippier here than it was in the previous film (something helped by the fact that we're asked to imagine Ryan Gosling in the throes of passion instead of Joaquin Phoenix). The corporate interests, such as they are, are played meanwhile by the dynamic duo of Jared Leto, playing the evil (or at least supremely creepy) corporate overlord/replicant magnate Niander Wallace, while his second in command, a replicant named Luv, is portrayed by Dutch actress Sylvia Hoeks. I'm still deciding if I will ever forgive Leto for his role in Suicide Squad (probably not), but he tones it waaaaay back in this film, still a creepy bastard of course, but one that seems drawn from a genuine place as opposed to random stupidity and artifice. As to Hoeks, she's a discovery, a chilling, lethal, corporate killer-assassin-replicant, the sort of thing we got to see in all the movies Blade Runner inspired, but not in Blade Runner itself, and Hoeks does an excellent job with the material. Cameos from everyone from Dave Bautista to Lennie James also liven the film, but the best thing in the movie is Robin Wright, who has spontaneously started showing up in all of my movies this year, playing K's supervisor, Lt. Joshi. Where Robin Wright has been all these years, I have no idea, but she's perfect in this, as a veteran LAPD officer trying to keep the city from spiraling out of control, one who plainly humanizes the synthetic replicant who reports to her to a point, but only to a point. It's a nuanced performance that makes me regret Wright's absence all the more these last few decades.

Blade Runner was a revolutionary film in many regards, with a style, visual and directorial, all its own, and here, at the very least, the filmmakers have done their level best to ensure the new film matches up with the old. The visuals are dark and sodden, whether storm-lashed cities and coasts or fog/smoke-shrouded ruins in which men scrape a life together from the detritus of the world. As with the previous film, natural items like wood are a premium, and languages blend together in a mishmash of cultural crucibles. Standard cyberpunk fare nowadays, but Villeneuve (Prisoners, Sicario, Arrival) thrives in this sort of setting, delivering a slow-paced atmosphere picture, completely belying my concerns that someone or other along the line was going to have the bright idea to turn Blade Runner into an action movie. Several sequences, particularly the modified Voight-Kampf test that K is made to undergo periodically to ensure his conformity, are jarring to the point of bewilderment, as is the intention, and the film overall has a washed-out, drained quality to it despite the voluminous neon and product placement on display. Affer all, a Blade Runner movie is one of the few circumstances where product placement is appropriate. Overall, Villeneuve delivers an aesthetic that perfectly matches the original film, both in style and in pacing, obviating any concerns that this would be nothing more than another crappy remake.

Things Havoc disliked: In fact, so dedicated is Villeneuve to the desire to stray away from a typical Hollywood style of filmmaking that the end result is... kinda boring.

Blade Runner 2049 is not a short film, well over two and a half hours overall, but it's not the length that's the problem, it's the pace, combined with the resolute refusal to let the characters do much more than march about in an emotionless affect. Please don't mistake me, this isn't The Lobster or something, but the original Blade Runner did have action, have a comprehensible plot, have things happening within it, which seems to have been tossed from this movie under the theory that if nothing happens throughout the movie's run-time, nobody can accuse the film of being shallow.

I mean, that's slightly unfair, because things do happen in Blade Runner 2049, but I will be damned if I can piece together why they happen, let alone what they are intended to mean to the characters involved. The plot, such as it is, seems to wander about largely at random, from set-piece to set-piece, and so much time is taken up just luxuriating in the setting and atmosphere, and so little time taken up with anything actually happening, that what the movie starts to feel like is less a meditative examination of the ineffable and transitory nature of human experience, and more like Salvador Dali's vacation slideshow. Part of the problem is the soundtrack, which in the original was composed by the immortal greek album/film composer Vangelis, but which in this movie is undertaken by Hans Zimmer, a composer whose work I used to love, until he achieved such success with the Inception soundtrack that he decided to basically repeat the leitmotifs from that film (BWWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!) ad nauseum for every movie he scored thereafter (consider Dunkirk if you want to see the result). As a result, the music, which in the last film was daring and bold and set an artificial, noirish vibe for the entire goings on, is in this case nothing but undifferentiated foghorn noise that symbolizes nothing (to me at least) except the promise of future migraines.

The plot contains multiple cul-de-sacs, concepts and ideas that are brought up largely for the sake of bringing them up and then forgotten about entirely, such as an underground replicant-rights movement whose existence is revealed to us all of a sudden midway through the film with no setup, who acts as a Deus Ex Machina for two minutes, and then who disappears with nary a mention ever again. There is, in fairness, something to be said for this sort of narrative, wherein the movie is about the main character meeting strange and diverse people who have their own agendas unconnected with the overall plot, but that only works when the overall plot itself is comprehensible, and this one just isn't. Early hints that certain characters may be feeling a particular way beneath the surface about their circumstances are abandoned immediately, lest the actors be made to act, as opposed to standing about like drones serving the purposes of the narrative. By the end of the film, I was having tremendous difficulties determining why people were acting the way they were, what their intentions were vis-a-vis one another, or what the hell was going on in general. This descends into even elementary mistakes on the level of continuity editing or idiot balls. Where, for instance, does one character spontaneously obtain what appears to be a missile-armed attack craft during one of the penultimate sequences, and why do the bad guys insist on knocking our protagonist unconscious repeatedly and then leaving him, unharmed, where he has fallen, without even taking the opportunity to deprive him of the vital clues or transportation he will need to continue to oppose their plan? Everything here, to me, points to a film that was entirely driven by the art department and the director's vision, rather than by the writers and the script, and while there are films for which that approach has paid great dividends (the better half of Tarantino's works, for instance), without proper care, the result veers dangerously close to just turning into a self-indulgent mess.

Final thoughts:   I sort of respect Blade Runner 2049 more than I actually like it, respect the achievement in producing it, and in adhering to a vision that is in many ways daring, though not in the same ways that it was back in 1982, respect the sensibility that went into trying to ensure that as a sequel to a nostalgic classic, it had a duty to try not to ruin the memories of the original with Hollywood pap. But all that respect does not really translate into me recommending the film unreservedly. It is a long sit, even for the time it actually takes up, and if your patience for staring at dim visuals while listening to atonal electronic music is limited, there is not going to be a lot here for you. I saw the film with two companions, one of whom quite liked it, and one of whom hated it, and that, I think, is a microcosm of the reaction that this film can expect to engender. It may, on some fictional objective level, be a great film, but here on the temporal plane, as a piece of entertainment, it is unavoidably inadequate on several levels. Whether those levels are minor nitpicks to you, or outright dealbreakers will depend entirely on what purposes you have for film overall. For my part, I'm glad I saw Blade Runner 2049, but it's not a film I have any need to experience again, let alone the nineteen different "authoritative" versions that may well be coming over the next few years.

Oh, and for those wondering why I didn't once mention Harrison Ford's reprisal of his original character in the review above, as either a good thing or a bad one, well it's because it is neither. Harrison Ford is in the movie, playing Harrison Ford. Like so much of the rest of Blade Runner 2049, whether that is a good or a bad thing depends entirely on how desperate you are to see Harrison Ford continue his farewell tour of all of his old classics.

Final Score:  6.5/10

Next Time:  Jackie Chan does Taken... 'kay...

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