*WARNING: Spoilers below. Read ahead with caution*
It is a common topic of conversation that remakes and sequels are all the rage right now. In the last few years, sequels of films with a questionable need for remaking are being green-lit at studios around Hollywood. We’re talking sequels of movies older than two or three years: Mary Poppins Returns, Ocean’s Eight, along with this week’s big release, Blade Runner 2049 spring to mind as examples. Blade Runner 2049 is a direct sequel to the cult classic, 1982 science-fiction and neo-noir film, Blade Runner.
Blade Runner 2049 follows replicant (and “Blade Runner”) “K” (Ryan Gosling) as he makes his way through dystopian Los Angeles of the near future. One day, he stumbles upon an old model replicant (Dave Bautista). After carrying out his duty, K discovers a chest buried on the man’s property. It turns out, it contains the body of a female replicant who seems to have died in childbirth. This shouldn’t be possible. Investigation sends K spiraling deep into a rabbit hole of danger and intrigue as he attempts to find answers to an overwhelming number of questions.
Watching through the 2 hour and 43 minute movie (ouch… intermissions should be a thing again), everything about it is visually stunning. Director Denis Villeneuve and his crew do an incredible job capturing the unmistakable aesthetic of the first film. Blade Runner 2049 drifts from the streets of Los Angeles to the burned out and abandoned remnants of Las Vegas, expanding the already interesting universe smoothly. In the film’s third act, K and Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) fight inside an abandoned Las Vegas showroom. The stunning lighting intercuts with surprisingly good holographic projections of stars like Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe and Liberace. The fast paced scene is unique and interesting to watch. This feels especially helpful as the run time continues to grow. Each setting (and visual for that matter) is as stunning as the one before, making Blade Runner 2049 a pleasure to watch.
Narratively, the film tells an interesting story which propels the movie forward. However, at points it does feel a bit clunky. The appeal of Blade Runner 2049 is definitely in the visuals. There are long stretches without dialogue as the camera lingers over the beautiful environments. Style over substance? Potentially. Viewers who need quick pacing and lots of dialogue might not enjoy this film.
Meanwhile, Blade Runner 2049 is very much a vehicle for Ryan Gosling. He absolutely shines in the role, especially as his character develops and morphs towards the end of the film. While the Academy Awards have yet to give him the big prize, he often finds himself a contender. This performance could once again set him in the running.
However, the same can’t be said for the film’s female characters. None of Blade Runner 2049’s five female characters receive enough development to be truly memorable. With the exception of the awesome Robin Wright’s Lt. Joshi, each feel like expendable and often subservient sex objects to be paraded on screen. Every time one receives a fleeting moment of agency, the narrative quickly redirects. This seems at its most telling towards act three when prostitute Marietta (Mackenzie Davis) is revealed to have a secret life in a resistance movement. Not only is the character arch revealed in a complete (and sudden) 180 degree turn in the narrative, but it disappears as quickly as it appeared.
The closest Blade Runner 2049 comes to a achieving an interesting female character is replicant Luv (Sylvia Hoeks). However, her character receives so little attention that her development feels sudden and abrupt as she becomes more important towards the end of the film.
Meanwhile, the narrative shows no problem sexualizing the female characters as well as the female form. At one point, the story stops dead as K’s robot girlfriend Joi (Ana de Armas) hires Marietta so the two women may “synch”, thus allowing Joi and K to make love. At another point, the camera uncomfortably pans up the nude body of a newly birthed female replicant as Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) leers at the confused and emotional woman. The action later stops once again as the camera pans over erotic female statues in the remnants of Las Vegas. The camera even frames shots with the statues. With so little narrative development of these women (whether this is intended or otherwise) they simply feel like objects within the film.
Finally, the violence directed towards the female characters feels pronounced and extended when compared against the film’s male characters. While there are male characters who do die within the narrative, their deaths are quick and usually off-screen. However, the deaths of the three female characters are depicted on-screen in uncomfortable, close, and lingering violence. Between a lengthy strangulation scene, and not one but two characters being stabbed in the stomach (read: womb), the difference is noticeable. Had the entire movie demonstrated this level of violence, this wouldn’t seem so prominent.
This is a highly critical review of a film which contains definite flaws. However, viewers looking for a visually impressive popcorn film should definitely check out Blade Runner 2049. While it could potentially use a bit of a trim, stylistically, the film is an absolute masterpiece. It feels a safe bet that it will be a contender for technical categories come Oscar time. Perhaps Blade Runner 2049’s biggest flaw is style over substance. Check it out for the beautiful look, but be careful diving below the surface.
Blade Runner 2049 opens this weekend around the country.