By Dave B.
If you’re not familiar with the world of Blade Runner, here are the basics: Replicants (artificial humans with augmented strength and endurance) are subservient to the human population. Those who don’t abide by protocols on behavior and length of life are hunted by Blade Runners. In Blade Runner 2049 (2017, currently on HBO), Officer K (Ryan Gosling) is a Blade Runner who is also a replicant. He hunts and kills his own kind. While “retiring” a rogue replicant, K discovers a miracle: decades ago, an old-model replicant gave birth, despite all replicants being supposedly sterile. This sets K on an epic journey to solve the mystery of who and where the born replicant is before knowledge of its existence sets off a cataclysmic war between humans and their replicant slaves. In the process, K must cope with startling revelations about his own origins.
I refused to go see this movie in the theater because it’s nearly three hours long. I just don’t have the fortitude to sit still for that long. That said, to my delight, I discovered that Blade Runner 2049 doesn’t feel anywhere near three hours long while one is watching it. That’s just about one of the biggest pluses that I could’ve hoped for. Fortunately, that’s not even the best part of this movie. The gritty, grimy environment of 2049 Los Angeles is portrayed beautifully and serves as a good foundation for what is overall fantastic world-building. It’s easy to lose oneself in Blade Runner’s visuals: a spartan dystopia intertwined with glimpses of lush beauty and giant colorful advertising. For the most part, this film is a treat for the senses and a decently plausible vision of the future (with a few glaring exceptions that I won’t go into publicly for now).
Unfortunately, its stark beauty can’t hide the hollowness at its core. The original Blade Runner is generally regarded as a masterpiece, in part, because of it’s subtle, but ever-present, philosophical depth. Blade Runner 2049 is a disappointment because it largely eschews philosophical musings and replaces them with either quasi-religious platitudes or with fundamentally nothing. Not nothing in a nihilist sense, which may have been interesting. Nothing in a Hollywood sense, where subtly and depth are shunned in favor of mass appeal. I’m not saying that Blade Runner 2049 offers nothing to think about. Only that it lacks originality and often feels more like a standard mystery than a subversive treatise on existence. For those reasons, I find it markedly inferior to the original.
Despite my above criticism, I still recommend Blade Runner 2049. It’s easy to dive right into it, the acting is solid, and there’s nothing that I despised about it. It’s a solid movie, but one that viewers need to go into with properly scaled expectations. It’s not transcendental, nor is it transformative. It’s mostly just a good movie to spend an afternoon watching without feeling like you’ve completely wasted your time and one that will help you contemplate how there’s very little chance the future will be unambiguously better than the present. All of which is pretty fun, if you ask me.
I have no clue what I'm doing, but I'll keep doing whatever it is to the best of my ability.