Friday, October 6, 2017

In Theaters: BLADE RUNNER 2049 (2017)

(US - 2017)

Directed by Denis Villeneuve. Written by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green. Cast: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Jared Leto, Robin Wright, Dave Bautista, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Mackenzie Davis, Carla Juri, Lennie James, Barkhad Abdi, Edward James Olmos, Wood Harris, Hiam Abbass, David Dastmalchian, Tomas Lemarquis, Sean Young. (R, 164 mins)

Ridley Scott's BLADE RUNNER, based on Philip K. Dick's 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, is so highly and rightfully regarded as an influential sci-fi masterpiece to this day that it's easy to forget that it only did middling business in theaters in the summer of 1982 and the reviews weren't all that great. Over time, thanks to incessant cable and TV airings and the reconstruction of the "director's cut" in 1992 (assembled from the workprint and Scott's notes; he was busy working on 1492: CONQUEST OF PARADISE at the time and wasn't directly involved in it other than being consulted) and later with Scott's official "final cut" in 2007, the film's reputation and significance grew. The compromised theatrical version was a thorn in the side of both Scott and star Harrison Ford, who wasn't pleased about adding hard-boiled voiceover narration and made every effort to ensure that it sounded as if it was doing it at gunpoint. The director's cut removed the narration and added the much-debated unicorn scene, meant to ambiguously convey that perhaps Deckard (Ford), the titular blade runner, was himself a replicant just like those he was assigned to pursue and "retire." In the unlikely event you haven't seen BLADE RUNNER since it was in theaters and all you know is the now-obsolete theatrical version, then you're going to be completely baffled as to what's going in BLADE RUNNER 2049, which uses the director's cut as its springboard. With Scott onboard as executive producer, the original film's co-writer Hampton Fancher (his first credit since 1999's THE MINUS MAN) contributing to the script, and acclaimed filmmaker Denis Villeneuve (PRISONERS, SICARIO, ARRIVAL) at the helm, BLADE RUNNER 2049 established its bona fides before filming even began. Villeneuve promised to remain true to the beloved original and he more or less does. It in no way insults or diminishes the memory of the 1982 classic, and it throws in plenty of winking callbacks, but at the end of the day, it's still a 35-years-later sequel that doesn't succeed in justifying its existence.

Set 30 years after the first film, BLADE RUNNER 2049 opens in an even more dystopian California. Due to repeated replicant rebellions like the one led by Rutger Hauer's Roy Batty, the Tyrell Corporation went bankrupt. Replicant production began once more when what was left of Tyrell's operation was purchased by billionaire industrialist Niander Wallace (Jared Leto). Blade runner K (Ryan Gosling) arrives at the isolated desert farm of Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista), an old-school Nexus 8 replicant with an indeterminate lifespan. After a violent confrontation, K does his job and takes him out before reporting back to LAPD headquarters for a "baseline" debriefing required of replicants. Yes, that's right. BLADE RUNNER 2049 immediately answers the million dollar question: blade runners are replicants, and they're now integrated into society, even though they're regarded as second-class citizens, or "skinjobs" and "skinners." Investigation of Morton's property reveals a box of human skeletal remains near a tree. Examination of the remains indicate that it was a woman who died giving birth, and further analysis of the DNA shows proof that the skeleton is that of a replicant, thus blowing the doors off everything known about the bioengineered "skinjobs," who can apparently sexually reproduce, one last experiment pulled off by the Tyrell Corporation before it imploded. K's investigation into the whereabouts of the woman's child leads him to numerous places--very slowly--and also involves his hologram love interest Joi (Ana de Armas); a "memory designer" (Carla Juri) who knows about a specific real or imagined event that's been planted into K's memory; Wallace's ruthless enforcer Luv (Sylvia Hoeks as Milla Jovovich) who's also out to find the now-adult child; and even a visit to a retirement home with Gaff (Edward James Olmos), who's still passing the time and busies his hands by making tiny origami animals.

Eventually, K ends up in the radioactive ruins of Las Vegas, where Deckard has been in hiding for 30 years after running off with now-deceased  replicant Rachael (Sean Young) at the end of the first film. To say anymore would involve too many spoilers, but let's begin with the positives: it's just as visually stunning as you'd expect, thanks in large part to the work of the great cinematographer Roger Deakins, the Susan Lucci of D.P.s who's been nominated for 13 Oscars and has yet to win. The world of BLADE RUNNER 2049 is just as vividly dystopian as its predecessor in its own ways, this time mixing its neon-drenched cityscapes with dusty wastelands and the almost Overlook Hotel-esque appearance of the abandoned casino resort Deckard calls home. Ford's appearance here is not unlike Charlton Heston's extended cameo in BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES: BLADE RUNNER 2049 runs an ass-numbing 164 minutes, and in one of the most delayed entrances this side of Marlon Brando in APOCALYPSE NOW, Ford's first appearance doesn't even happen until nearly two hours in. Atmospheric slow-burn is one thing, but the ponderous and relentlessly gabby BLADE RUNNER 2049 is oppressively overlong, with scenes going on much longer than necessary and too many instances of characters introduced making overly verbose expository proclamations from the shadows only to slowly emerge in the light (Leto only has two scenes, and he enters both of them in this fashion). Everyone in this movie is a slow talker, and it probably adds 30 minutes to the running time.

Knowing now that Deckard is a replicant doesn't change the events of the first film since the director's cut more or less said as much, but Ford still managed to create a compelling and complex character. Here, Deckard just looks befuddled and grouchy. In other words, he looks like Harrison Ford, reliving his Han Solo and Indiana Jones glory days in present-day nostalgia trips that don't quite measure up to the classics that came before (STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS was fun, but have you ever met an INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL fan?).  K is a character that, on paper, plays to the strengths of Gosling's moody persona as seen in DRIVE and ONLY GOD FORGIVES, but Nicolas Winding Refn made those enigmatic Gosling characters a lot more interesting in those films than Villeneuve does here. K's love for Joi is an interesting concept that never really feels developed, but then, nor do any of the characters. BLADE RUNNER is a hypnotic experience that feels new and compelling and fresh with each revisit. It's timeless. But for all the talk of replicants finding their humanity in BLADE RUNNER 2049, there's nothing here even remotely as memorable or gut-wrenching as Rutger Hauer's "Tears in Rain" monologue before his final, resigned declaration of "Time to die." And while Vangelis' synth score is one of the 1982 film's most memorable components, the score here by Hans Zimmer is so aggressively, overbearingly bombastic that it almost qualifies as self-parody. Vangelis enhanced the mood and the vision and contributed to the hypnotic nature. Zimmer's score stampedes and bulldozes over everything to the point where it's an overwhelming, suffocating distraction that actually detracts from the effectiveness of numerous scenes. I gave BLADE RUNNER 2049 time, fidgeting through its laborious first hour and legitimately intrigued by a major plot reveal that finally seems to set things in motion, but it resumed dragging ass shortly thereafter and Zimmer's score got even more obnoxious, and no matter how captivating the visuals were, I finally had to accept the fact that it was well past two hours into this thing, its contrivances and developments were getting more half-baked and nonsensical (I'm still not sure what's going on with the replicant "revolution" that gets brought up near the end and is instantly dropped) and the point had passed where I ran out of excuses and had to admit to myself that I wasn't connecting with it at all. BLADE RUNNER was slow in a methodical way that was never boring. BLADE RUNNER 2049 is so concerned with replicating that feeling that it never finds its footing and never gets any momentum going. Maybe I'll look at it again in a year.

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