Monday, October 23, 2017

Blade Runner 2049 - a triumph of set over story

How can I say this? I really don’t get Blade Runner 2049. Neither the original nor the sequel! So why all the hype around this overly long science fiction monstrosity?

It’s a lengthy film in which we learn about the collection of an eyeball, home life, new live, searching, finding, feeling, self-discovery, reunion, recalibration, realisation, swimming, an actual reunion and ending. Each of those ‘acts’ is given 10-12 minutes, plenty of room in which to breath, in the much anticipated and quite baffling sequel to the original Blade Runner.

If you’re still reading, congratulations on sticking with this review: a few fans may have been lost after those two paragraphs.

There have been poorer movies this year. I’m thinking about Stratton (too poor to review) and War of the Planet of the Apes.

I’m always suspicious of films that need a preamble to set the scene. That misgiving applies to Star Wars with its trailing text too. This film begins with a much needed glossary to explain replicants, blade runners and retirement as well as a since-the-last-episode catch up about synthetic farming averting famine, rebellion, prohibition and super-obedient nu-replicants.

Ryan Gosling is the modern blade runner K, a replicant working for LAPD and flying around the dusty states looking for old models that need to be stopped. He wears blood well: first caked on the right side of his head, later on the left side, and often trickling down and sticking to his neck.

“What you saw didn’t happen” says Robin Wright playing Claire Underwood, I mean, Lieutenant Joshi in a role that is hardnosed but nowhere near as evil as her character in House of Cards. Sylvia Hoeks plays Luv, chief enforcer in Tyrell Corporation and nemesis of LAPD’s Joshi. These are strong roles which happen to be female, and their strength and ability to give and take punishment is unaffected by gender. However the acting is ponderous and the dialogue is weighted down like Shakespearen speech rather than sci-fi.

The same stressed questioning of replicants is carried over from the first film, though the equipment has been modernised. Holographic projections, large and small, abound throughout the city. The female form is fixated upon in a society that otherwise shows signs of being gender balanced: men must sadly not evolved while we’ve been away.

Virtual companions (Ana de Armas plays the well-named ‘Joi’) are as preferred as real women; and both can be used for surveillance. Flying cars have a Delorean feel, and suffer similar trouble with their electrics, though are badged as Peugeot.

There are moments of unexpected humour in this dark science fictional quest for answers. The birth of the latest Nexus model of replicant looks suspiciously like a baby giraffe being rudely dropped into the world from a great height. Conception is deemed to give hope for delivery from slavery. But it may also be what “breaks the world” and causes war to break out. The blade runners try to cover it up in fear of starting away, while the manufacturers seek to steal the evidence.

The locations are stunning and the cinematography is fabulous, with an opening shot that moves from an eye to a circular solar farm. This architectural design in the city contrasts utilitarian concrete apartments with the archive centres and a Bond villain-esque lair straight out of the pages of The colour palette is convincingly ‘post-event’ with its mix of grey, pale yellow, dark brown, dust and white.
“Sometimes to love someone you got to be a stranger”
Aside from the set and the colouration, there is little to like about this dystopian science fiction world. Though a shade longer then The Revenant, Blade Runner 2049 if is marginally more enjoyable, and director Denis Villeneuve does succeed in making a film that is less atrocious than the bamboozling Ridley Scott original. (I’m now tempted – but only a tiny amount – to return to it having sat through ‘2049’ in case I now have enough clues to understand the storyline.)

Two thirds of the way through this 163 minute film a familiar male figure steps out of the darkness along with his cute dog and a longing for cheese. The possibility of a Star Wars-ian ‘guess to whom I am related’ moment is allowed to linger for twenty minutes before being snuffed out in the snow. That’s a disappointing revelation in a film that offers little other hope.

One late scene brings forward the possibility of Indiana Jones and the Watery Ending. But the true hero – and not the one you’ve sat watching for several hours – must be kept alive in case there is a further sequel.

Blade Runner 2049 is a long and disappointing foray into a future world whose architecture far surpasses the story. Give me Solaris or even give Sunshine any day over this nonsense!

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