The Two Reviews: Blade Runner 2049 (2017 Denis Villeneuve)

“…reducing the film and its central narrative to esoteric wankiness…”

For many cinema goers, expectations for this greatly anticipated sequel to Blade Runner were high. Then again, I am one of those who never believed it was going to match the original. And it doesn’t. But it is not a complete write-off either. The cinema-photography is good, set design and lighting are excellent and special effects are fine. And the actors, for the most part, do a fine job. I also think the director and producers (including Ridley Scott himself) put some effort into making the general mood and pathos the same as the original film. Very commendable, but all this was at the cost of its own narrative. It labours under the weight of the 1982 film. The story develops slowly, winding its way between credibility and ridiculousness. There is a particularly tedious and trite scene between Deckard (Harrison Ford) and Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), who plays a kind of caricature Dr. Evil role, reducing the film and its central narrative to esoteric wankiness. The editors should have taken a blade to a good 20 minutes or more, ditching a few pointless scenes and making it all a whole lot sharper (puns intended). And, although I liked the soundtrack (and sound effects), it is overloud and forces the mood rather than builds it.

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But there are good things about the film. Gosling and the female leads do a fine job with what they have. Some of the action sequences were a touch violent, but they were effective and well edited. I liked a scene with a hologram Elvis, cutting in and out, and there are subtle messages throughout the film about simulated reality and actual reality – sometimes merging so that it is unclear as to what exactly is real and what is not. I think you have to buy into its slow pace and think about it for a bit. The narrative, although trite in parts, is more complex than a lot of sci-fi fantasies. For most viewers it will be hard to watch without constantly comparing it to the original. And that is its biggest problem: it doesn’t stand as its own film – not entirely. It’s like an Elvis tribute act: worth watching with your mates, but not worth buying the record.
Reviewed by Robin Stevens – Rated 3.49/5

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“…the city streets pulsate with a palpable ominosity tinged with deep pessimism and depravity…”

Having developed into one of the most influential and enduring movie spectacles over the past 35 years, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) demanded more than just a respectable cameo from Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard in Denis Villeneuve and co’s widely anticipated sequel released last week. There needed to be a meaningful and mindful association with the epic futuristic visualisations of Los Angeles and the wonderfully layered complexities of the first film’s storyline. Was this achieved? In my opinion, yes and maybe (in that order). Like in the recent Star Wars films, the visual effects reach the pinnacle of current capabilities in that sector. There are times when you are completely swallowed up by immense aerial perspectives – LA has continued to sprawl and extend upwards in the 30 years since the original setting and it is fucking breath-taking. The cinematography by Roger Deakins continues in the same vein as Jordan Cronenweth’s original work, probably going even further in capturing the essence of a world in ecosystem-breakdown and completely devoid of a soul. The city streets pulsate with a palpable ominosity tinged with deep pessimism and depravity, while the outer limits are photographed as monumental, smog-strewn wastelands of (almost) abandoned skyscrapers and sprawling scrapheaps. With a tremoring Hans Zimmer score that subtly borrows excerpts from the original Vangelis hauntings, there is a mesmerising beauty to it all, albeit marked by nihilism. The performance of Ryan Gosling as K, the brooding central figure – a ‘blade runner’ like Deckard – is not amiss here and he juggles that whole emotion/non-emotion malaise pretty well I think. Robin Wright and Sylvia Hoeks too provide armored performances but the less said about Jared Leto the better.

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The main problem though, lies in Villeneuve’s direction of pacing and timing – in his previous films Sicario and Arrival, he clearly struggled with this also. There is a sense that his concept of grandiose is not always about story but just about image and intrigue. Now this may not be a viable statement given that Blade Runner 2049 does make perfect sense and certainly offers a story that is worth waiting around for. But in some of the supposedly more dramatic sequences there are considerable lapses in suspense, and the heft of meaningful back stories are sometimes lost in tediously long and silly scenes – the weird threesome being an example (for some, of course, this has its own unique appeal). There are some things that are both pointless and disappointing to fans of the 1982 film but that is not to say that it should be dismissed. Not even close. Villeneuve manages to keep much of the original’s profound and admirable mysteries intact and what is offered here is an exceptional example of what can be achieved with computer-generated imagery nowadays. There is enough to keep one entertained for a couple of hours at least. Indeed, with this widespread modern appetite for franchising movies, there is likely more to come and we should rejoice that with these beginnings, they haven’t completely arsed it up already.
Reviewed by JJ McDermott – Rated 4/5

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