Look, I get Blade Runner, director Ridley Scott’s 1982 adaptation of the Philip K. Dick Novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” is cool, but I’ll be the first to offer an exaggerated eye roll every time I see it at the top of a list of the Greatest Science Fiction Films of All Time. So when it came to the prospect of a sequel thirty-five years in the making, I wasn’t sure what I wanted as an audience member.
Was Blade Runner 2049 going to be a hip and modernized blockbuster take on the world of Rick Deckard and the Replicants, with bombastic effects for the kids and winking allusions to the original film for the fans? Was it going to be a kitschy pair of nostalgia goggles dogmatically adhering to the minutia of a cult classic, unable to see the forest for the trees? Was it going to be a collection of nifty set pieces and action sequences cobbled together with just enough ambiance to justify the name?
Given my lukewarm opinion of the original I wasn’t even sure what I wanted the film to be.
Ultimately, director Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 is defined by the aspects of Blade Runner it holds dear, for better or worse. For my money, it is almost without exception for the better.
Blade Runner 2049 is a sequel that is a true spiritual successor to its predecessor. It doesn’t concern itself with recapturing the glory of Blade Runner’s most iconic scenes and lines. It’s too disciplined a film to get caught in the weeds of nostalgia. Blade Runner 2049 isn’t a film desperate to recreate “Tears in Rain” it’s a stylish film on the vanguard of visual effects that meanders through a neon-noir narrative, refusing to indulge the full blockbuster scope of its own implications.
Blade Runner was no blockbuster, fiscally or narratively, and though it has gained a rabid following in the decades since its release, 2049 is careful to remain a sequel to the film that came out in 1982, rather than a response to the sprawling, aggrandized reputation said film has since garnered. It stays true to the noir roots of the original, presenting a science fiction story that hints at infinite scope but never gets too far off of the street. It recreates the lauded aesthetic and art direction established in the original without smothering itself in green screens. Hans Zimmer conjures a convincing enough facsimile of the contemplative, stylish melancholy of Vangelis’ score for the original without just dripping a heaping portion of synthesizers all over the proceedings.
Blade Runner 2049’s reverence for its source material runs far deeper than its most marketable characteristics.
It’s telling then, that where Blade Runner 2049 fell short for me was in its most marketable, bankable facet: Harrison Ford.
Blade Runner 2049 does not get made without Harrison Ford attached. This I understand. And Ford turns in a solid performance. But, where the film’s reverence for its Blade Runner’s sense of style and storytelling is admirable and disciplined, its reverence for its progenitor’s protagonist feels misplaced.
Rick Deckard is not Han Solo. Rick Deckard is not Indiana Jones. Though the character’s introduction in 2049 is given the sense of gravity afforded Han Solo’s “Chewie, we’re home,” the character has never generated that sort of fanfare. Several times the film feels as though it is trying to conjure a sense of “classic Rick” that isn’t really there because Deckard’s place in pop culture is at most concerned with his humanity or artificiality rather than any given character trait.
Blade Runner 2049 is at its best following Ryan Gosling’s K down a meandering existential rabbit hole, and while it’s awesome to see Harrison Ford reprise Rick Deckard, the script allows his character to hijack a film that was doing just fine on its own, rather than enriching it. But of course, an abundance of Harrison Ford isn’t exactly the most compelling complaint in the world.
2049 not only has a respect for its predecessor that is far from a given in sequels, it has the intellect and self-control to elaborate and explore characteristics that run deeper than a marketing campaign can touch. I didn’t expect Blade Runner 2049 to be the film it turned out to be, but I suspected I would like it more than the original and I at least predicted that much accurately.
Unfortunately, much as the the movie-going public of 1982 didn’t real give a shit about Blade Runner. the movie-going public of 2017 didn’t really give a shit about Blade Runner 2049’s disciplined reverence for Blade Runner.
Having been released over a month ago (look I got a lot on my plate), in hindsight Blade Runner 2049’s less-than-stellar commercial reception was perhaps inevitable given that aforementioned adherence to the heart and soul of a film that suffered the same fate, but I suspect that same adherence makes it likely to retain a strong, steadily growing fan base in the years to come.
I for one will be eagerly awaiting Blade Runner 2084.