Filmgoer’s Flamethrower #7 – Blade Runner 2049

Posted: February 17, 2018 in Uncategorized

© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

Some movies just land wrong and Blade Runner 2049 is one of them. But, then there’s landing wrong in the sense of belly-flopping off the 30-meter platform at the Olympics and misjudging the last step off the escalator at the bottom of the landing in a London Tube Station. For me, watching this movie on disk well after the theatrical run felt more like the latter.

Scene. We open on the same white over black exposition cards that in the original Blade Runner told us all about the replicants, blade runners and the Tyrell Corporation. This time thirty years have passed and the Nexus 8, a later series progressing from the Nexus 6, have rebelled so often that they were banned driving Tyrell out of business. A new corporation figured out how to hardwire slavish obedience into various newer series of replicants allowing their usage on Earth. Blade Runners still exist to retire any remaining Nexus 8 and other replicant lines that might still be hiding in plain sight on Earth.

A replicant designated Officer K-[lots of letters] (Ryan Gosling) flies his car through the ever present rain that has defined Southern California since whatever ecological damage dumped on the City of Angels before the first movie. He lands near a protein farm that grows edible worms that can be ground up to mimic meat and other more palatable protein sources. K-[lots of letters] gets out into the gray gloom to investigate.

K-[lots of letters] meets Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista), an early model Nexus 8 long on the LAPD old case list. After conversation that reveals things like the protein farmer also grows garlic for his own use. To Sapper, the irony of sending a replicant from the newer slave series created by the Wallace Corporation that replaced Tyrell to kill him is funny or tragic depending on how much whiskey the listener had just before entering the farming pods. But, then Sapper says – “Doesn’t matter, I’ve seen a miracle!” – just before K-[lots of letters] puts a big bullet through the big replicant’s head.

And what is that miracle? K-[lots of letters] spots a tree under which he finds a dropped daisy that may or may not be a remembrance for the dead. The various scanners in the tricked out flying car solve that question right away detecting a box buried among the roots. He digs it up and takes it back to the lab for analysis. In the box, the ME finds bones of a woman with the markers of someone likely to have died in childbirth when the emergency C-section went bad and septic. The lab also finds a replicant serial number on a rib, which leads back to the oldest of the outstanding old cases…Rachel (Sean Young).

And so K-[lots of letters] begins a journey that will ultimately lead to him taking the name Joe and reunite Dekard (Harrison Ford) with the child he made with Rachel. And the replicants hiding in the shadows of society are lurking waiting for just the right rallying cry to rise up and demand rights from their creators.

I wanted to like this movie more mostly because of the strength of the original despite my annoyance with original director, Ridley Scott, creating four different cuts of his movie that really didn’t change very much understanding. Denis Villenueve did everything he could as director to call us back to the original film, but ended up giving us a slow moving and long film that couldn’t quite live up to the promise of the premise.

It was in the B-plot between Joe and his holographic helpmeet Joi (Ana de Armas) that I found things to like. Joi names Joe overcoming his clunky K-[lots of letters] designator and she’s always there in her mobile emitter to warmly welcome her man home. And when this culminates in Joi hiring a replicant hooker with whom to merge for a sex scene because holographs need help to have sex, my eyes opened up.

As you might guess, the identity of Dekard’s child is the McGuffin of the movie. K-[lots of letters] was sent to kill the child. Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) is sent by Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) to grab the child alive in order to reverse engineer replicant sexual reproduction to expand the use of replicant slaves in interstellar exploration. By the time, that K-[lots of letters] fully transforms into Joe, we spend a few minutes thinking that he might have been the child due to scrambled genetic records that suggest the child might have been male or female.

As this plot unfolded, I found myself trying to guess the most interesting way to land a huge twist with the reveal. And I thought the choice underwhelming. No, I won’t say what my personal “if I’d written the movie” whine-fest solution was because as a writer/reviewer I can’t think of anything more insulting to another creator than to lecture him about the “proper” way to make his movie. All you need to know is that these concerns exist and move on from there.

I’ve mentioned that the real knock against this movie is the nearly three-hour running time and slow pace that makes said three hours feel like six. Don’t get me wrong, three hours with more gunplay or just scenes that matter more dramatically might come out closer to Lawrence of Arabia, but it was not to be what with K-[lots of letters]/Joe sitting in chairs looking at screens that told him what the next clue was. I’m already clawing out my eyes.

As I write this, I’ve also decided that the evil corporate CEO Niander Wallace proved a character mostly superfluous to the story I saw on my TV screen. Replicant Luv didn’t need an onscreen boss as she tore up the rainy Los Angeles on her mission. This is not me throwing shade at Mr. Leto over his stellar performance but the realization that some roles are just easy to cut out when the audience might like their diet of cyberpunk metaphor served quicker with more film blood.

But, it wasn’t a completely miserable experience. Watching Sylvia Hoeks, Ana de Armas and Robin Wright (LT. Joshi) tear up their individual variations on the female metaphor was pleasurable. Homicidal replicant, loving hologram and human police commander should make for some interesting English papers discussing metaphor and females archetypes in college English classes for the next few years. It helps that all three ladies acted the hell out of their roles; otherwise students won’t care.

I must also shout out for the cinematography that has always been a hallmark of the franchise. Roger Deakins found every shadow needed to help put me visually into the dystopian Los Angeles where it always rains like present-day Seattle and I can’t say enough good things about how beautiful the darkness is even when the darkness becomes an orange blur in the nuclear wasteland that is Las Vegas.

Pretty much a shorter and more violent version of this movie with more replicants getting “retired” might have been more fun. A shorter and more violent movie that lets Joe and Joi go out for a bad date that then forces changes to society and their relationship could also work. A shorter and more violent movie that sees Niander Wallace kept off screen in favor of Luv also might fly. Shorter and more violent…got it!

And with that…review’s over go home!

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