In sequel-happy Hollywood where even movies like Daddy’s Home and Bad Teacher get an encore, one might be tempted to think that sequels are easy money for all involved. And while that may be true for certain teflon, big ticket franchises like the Pirates of the Caribbean films, that is definitely not the case with a sequel like Blade Runner 2049. For although fans have been waiting literally thirty-five years for this one, 2049 was never a safe bet, especially with hardcore sci-fi fans who usually fall into the love it or hate it category before the credits role at the first midnight screening.
That said, most serious Blade Runner geeks I know – and having spent four years in film school, I know many – didn’t really love or hate 2049 so much as they admired it. Like a painting. And while there is much to admire in director Denis Villeneuve’s (Arrival, Sicario) sumptuous, sci-fi sequel, at the end of the day, admiring something and loving it are two very different propositions. Which, I suppose, is not unlike the concept of the film’s bioengineered humans/replicants themselves. They might look, act, and even feel like real humans, but, underneath all that shimmering, synthetic perfection they’re about as relatable as a Roomba.
Simply put, 2049 is a very mixed bag. And though fans of the original film will surely relish the opportunity to revisit the iconic, dystopian Los Angeles that Ridley Scott (who tackles executive producing duties this go around) conjured up so memorably in 1982, the shadow cast by the first film leaves little room for anything fresh or original to grow here. And whether or not that’s because Blade Runner’s moody, neo–noir style has been co-opted by so many other films and filmmakers over the years that nothing feels new about it anymore, the fact remains that 2049 suffers from a serious case of “seen-this-all-before-itis.”
Sure some of the new tech and scenery on display is gorgeous but the story at the heart of the film is overly familiar at best and, frankly, a bit of a snooze. Of course, the film’s two-hour-and-forty-four-minute running time doesn’t help matters much either.
Picking up 30 odd years after the events in the original film, the world of 2049 is a very different place. Replicants, who were once feared, hunted down, and killed by specialized police officers known as blade runners, are now being mass produced as a slave workforce. Investigating reports of a rogue replicant living on a protein farm just north of Los Angeles, an LAPD blade runner (who also happens to be a replicant) named K (Ryan Gosling) unearths something much more mysterious: the remains of a buried female replicant. More intriguing still is the fact that said replicant appears to have died during an emergency cesarean section, which shouldn’t be possible since replicants cannot reproduce.
Featuring appropriately weird supporting turns from Jared Leto (Suicide Squad, Dallas Buyers Club), Sylvia Hoeks (Whatever Happens), Mackenzie Davis (Black Mirror, The Martian), Robin Wright (House of Cards, Wonder Woman) and Cuban newcomer Ana de Armas as K’s stunning AI love interest, Joi, 2049 also features a quick cameo from the original film’s Edward James Olmos as everyone’s favorite origami artist, Gaff. Nominated earlier this week for five Academy Awards – including a richly-deserved cinematography nod for the masterful Roger Deakins, who has now been nominated 14 times without winning! – 2049 is, despite its flaws, a total feast for the senses. And though the plot isn’t nearly as deep and revelatory as the filmmakers seem to think it is, there are far worse ways you could spend your time on an airplane, so, order up a whiskey and enjoy!
Now playing on select British Airways flights worldwide, Blade Runner 2049 will be playing on most major carriers next month and is also currently available via streaming at iTunes, Google Play, and Amazon Video.