I certify this Blade Runner sequel to be “adequate”

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Blade Runner 2049
Now playing
3.5 out of 5

Spoilers ahead. Better watch the film before proceeding.

After watching Blade Runner 2049 twice, I’m convinced all the critical fawning had more to do with wishful thinking than the film’s actual quality. Don’t get me wrong — this sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 classic is good. But it’s not the masterpiece some believe it to be.

It’s the year 2049 and the Tyrell Corporation is no more. A problematic new generation of replicants — the Nexus-8 — caused enough trouble to bury the company (something about open-ended lifespans leading to the inconvenient pursuit of freedom). A new hyper-capitalist, Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), bought the scraps and came up with a new model that’s stronger and more obedient than the ones before it.

‘K’ (Ryan Gosling), a blade runner who hunts Nexus-8s for the LAPD, is that kind of replicant. In the movie’s opening scene, he comes across a box full of bones that reveals a shocking secret that, if revealed to the world, could trigger a revolution or a slaughter.

Director Denis Villeneuve (Arrival, Incendies, Prisoners) brings his own imprint to a universe that’s nothing if not idiosyncratic. The characters have more depth, as well — the original’s secondary characters tended to exist just to move the story along, so it’s nice to see a little depth. That said, like Ridley Scott’s original, Blade Runner 2049 remains a film noir at heart. It also reminds me of Ex-Machina, but the comparison favours Alex Garland’s artificial intelligence thriller. While Blade Runner 2049’s replicants aspire to be human, Ex-Machina’s androids had their own goals, and blending-in was not one of them.

Harrison Ford’s role is smaller than you’d think but once he shows up, 2049 becomes his movie. As for his still-ambiguous true nature — is he a human or a replicant? — Villeneuve is happy to let audiences decide.

Blade Runner 2049’s cinematography is fantastic. The obscenely under-recognized Roger Deakins (13 nominations, zero Oscars) builds on the first one’s toxic dystopia to create a more tactile, lived-in world. It’s a stunning achievement. The music isn’t as good. Vangelis’ elegiac score is a tough act to follow, and Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch’s wall-of-sound approach means nothing’s as memorable as the credits theme or “Tears in the Rain”.

Good sci-fi breaks new ground but Blade Runner 2049 is too reverential to venture from the original’s themes — what constitutes “soul”? Why does slavery keep happening? These aren’t exactly fresh questions and the film doesn’t have any answers anyway. The whole issue of “human supremacy” could have sure used more rigorous examination, considering the times we live in.

The bottom line? Blade Runner 2049 is undoubtedly an extraordinary achievement — a Blade Runner sequel could’ve easily been a disaster — but in the end, it’s a bit empty. ❧