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Movie Review: Blade Runner 2049, sleek sci-fi zen epic that is unfamiliar to 80s fans

October 17, 2017       Arts and Culture
Movie Review:
Bladerunner 2049
Not MTV slick as the original and more
Miyazaki-like ponderous, still a sci-fi epic.

Blade Runner 2049 is the official sequel to Ridley Scott's MTV slick, cyberpunk film of Philip K. Dick's short story, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?  Directed by Arrival auteur, Denis Villenueve, this rendition might throw MTV-Scott fans off, right from the get go, with its sweeping desert vistas and ramped down pace.  Even when the action scenes hit off, there is less noirish crime novel perp hunt frenzy and more of a mystery thriller, quiet atmosphere (with the hero having private moments with his A.I. idol girlfriend). 

We don't know why all the off-putting, no-character personas are the register in this movie.  If you are a diehard fan of the original where everyone had his own method acting schtick going smoothly, you'd be terribly disappointed why the future of the near future lost all of its personality.  In the original movie, every character from Brian, the origami-maniac private eye, to the villainous Roy Batty, and even the corporate stooge, body-parts makers had flair when they were playing their parts.  Jared Leto as the big bad boss in the sequel doesn't even put the fear of God in anyone with his monotone threats no matter if he is disemboweling a new replicant prototype.  Leto always reminds us of Jordan Catalano in an old teen drama series even if he is a rock star now and played Joker in Suicide Squad, so he appears miscast in the movie as a deadpan speaking, bad man.  In Blade Runner 2049, everyone came off as a soulless replicant by design.  It might be Denis Villenueve signature for zen characterizations.


Image Credit: Warner Bros (fair use)

As far as the story goes for Blade Runner 2049, the blade runners are now also replicants, and one of them is trying to find the old fugitive, Rick Deckard to solve a mystery about implanted memories.  Not really exciting, huh?  The pace is slow and the action sequences are nothing you've not seen before.

The movie studio has reportedly requested reviewers and critics not to reveal plot points if they can, so we'll dwell on the eye candy for a while, which is everything fans go to sci-fi cyberpunk movies for anyway, hoping the story holds up with all the hardware and digital visual feasts. 

For science fiction film fans and cyberpunk story aficionados, Blade Runner 2049 offers the good stuff:  armored hovercars armed to the teeth like an Apache combat helicopter, a neon lit city that holds up on its own as dark future of overcrowded California backwater urban survival ghettos, magnum blasters that pack the punch of a sawed-off shotgun, and the requisite of all cyberpunk movies:  A.I. holograms and androids as sexy as the 80s made them to be, and more.  Every street hooker in California 2049 looks like Darryl Hannah twin sisters, but less goth garish and actually dollymop gorgeous.  The A.I. fantasy girlfriend of the hero is a cosplaying, Hispanic shojo idol who looks amazing in lolygoth, club wear, meidoru or in her birthday suit.

The action sequences aren't as MTV as the first one, and this may be the director, Denis Villenueve's weakness, because as replicant blade runner, Ryan Gosling outclasses all of his opponents, even the big boss villainess. 

A major complaint will be that the Harrison Ford character should not be doping on virtual reality Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley vids in his pad.  For Chrissakes, in any future cyberpunk Marlboro country, the 40s-50sw retro music vid holograms of that era's icons seem so out of place and mismatched given the huge, skyscraper size holograms of naked girls advertised as personal girlfriend A.I. programs like recent idol sensation Hatsune Miku.  We are in the age of drum-and-bass, Korean-pop and Japanese-rock bubblegum dance music, retro shoegazer and technical death metal, so if anyone from the future should wax nostalgic, the music doesn't fit a cyberpunk profile.


Image Credit: Warner Bros (fair use)

As for the climax, we put things in perspective, noting Rutger Hauer's claim in a recent interview that he held the Guinness Book of World Records for death scene rhetoric, and that record still holds true if you finish the sequel: Ryan Gosling, the replicant blade runner, just lies down on the snow-covered steps of the building and expires unceremoniously.  Heroic indeed. 

Instead of copping up a hodge-podge carbon copy of the original (like Kingsman 2) Denis Villenueve's preferred zen treatment of story with the final death scene poetics felt rather flat.  No wonder movie fans stayed away from this one.  Just the Frank Sinatra holovids and the Marilyn and Elvis live holograms were enough to crash the movie for cyberpunk fans with their stash of EDM and rock expecting a hook to hold on if nothing else.

Betting on the Blade Runner mythos to carry the story until the end, the studio may have lost sight of what cyberpunk fans wanted to see from a Blade Runner brand--crime noir punk and bloat, The Crow styled MTV fight scenes, indelible MTV club scenes with EDM or Whiskey Ago-Go rock music, and of course, a Guinness Book of World Records attempt at trumping the "Tears in Rain speech".

If fans wanted another zen sci-fi flick, they would have swamped Blade Runner 2049.  Unfortunately, the movie doesn't come close to the glorious low-tech cyberpunk future of the original Ridley Scott shoegazer Vangelis movie with its grid-mapping computers, downtown ramen shacks, and snake-dancer go-go nightclubs.  Everything is already too sleek contoured, with even by-the-numbers slum portrayals being de rigeur throughout the Villenueve rendition. 

Here's hoping the third installment of the film, if it ever comes around to that, gives fans what they want--to remember Ridley Scott forever.  Crime noir pulp beats zen poetics anytime.  Except for the shonen joshi A.I. girlfriend idea (get Bing Bing Fan for the third), Blade Runner 2049 is just another stretched out, android cop mystery movie with no Blade Runner chunks for fans to chew on much.

For sci-fi fans who have never seen the original, it's your generation's imprinting of the Blade Runner brand.  An epic sci-fi movie rendition of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?  In zen fashion, Miyazaki-ponderous, storytelling narrative.  For us who grew up with the original, we want our rock music shoegazer-retro EDM good stuff and kooky speaking characters, hopefully with Bing Bing Fan as idol girlfriend, and a Blade Runner who can talk dirty, run bad cop, good cop schticks (Harrison Ford coming on to snake woman replicant) and an ending with a sexy villain who looks like a Gerry Bomber assassin and talks like a dying god.

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