Despite high critical approval, “Blade Runner 2049” underperformed at the box office, only grossing $32.8 million its initial weekend. (Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)
If the “Blade Runner” series were to be compared to children, the original “Blade Runner” from 1982 would be the straight A child who is always pleasing his parents whereas “Blade Runner 2049” would be the child who has potential if they could just get themselves together.
Following the discovery of deceased replicant that has been buried for thirty years, blade runner K (Ryan Gosling) is assigned to investigate the mystery. During his investigation, K comes across a discovery that could potentially change the world.
“Blade Runner 2049” is a sequel 35 years in the making, which automatically raises the problematic possibility that the movie is nothing more than a studio trying to cash in on a popular and classic film title all these years later. There is evidence to point towards the studio’s profit interests based on some blatant product placement and certain elements of the third act, but for the most part it feels like the film was someone’s genuine idea.
In universe, “Blade Runner 2049” is 30 years after the original “Blade Runner,” and the aging to the world feels organic. Not only has the technology of the world become more advanced, but how that world views replicants, the artificial humans that the franchise focuses on, has progressed as well, allowing the film to feel like the most logical step for the ‘Blade Runner’ universe.
The effects of the movie are simply astounding. In a time where it goes without saying most of the time that the effects are good, “Blade Runner 2049” goes above and beyond, especially when it comes to the effects used for Joi. It’s aesthetically beautiful, too, with the best set piece being the interior of the Wallace Corporation headquarters. Aesthetically, the movie is a masterpiece.
An unfortunate downside is the quality of the characters. Both K and Joi are interesting and well developed, but in terms of characters who play a major part in the story, they are the only two. Harrison Ford’s character could have easily been written out of the story and replaced by a new character, Jared Leto’s character just acts weird, and Leto’s henchwoman (Sylvia Hoeks) is just an obedient replicant.
Just like the characters themselves, the cast in general only does a passable job. Harrison Ford seems like he doesn’t want to be there. Ryan Gosling fluctuates between stoicism and showing genuine emotion. He’s believable when he performs these emotions, but it’s weird that he only seems to do them part of the time. Jared Leto is just overly weird in every scene he’s in. The only stand out is Ana de Armas as Joi.
The first “Blade Runner” examined what it meant to be human, and this movie does the same in its own way. It pits reality and artificiality against one another through the characters of K and his holographic companion Joi (Ana de Armas) as well as through certain story elements.
Unfortunately, while this story is strong throughout the first two acts, it starts to fall apart once the third act begins. The story of the first two acts revolves around the mystery that K is trying to solve. It has a slow pace to it, but the amount of story points mixed with the exploration of the movie’s themes makes it so it never becomes dull. At the beginning of the third act, the themes stop being explored and action set pieces and the possible set up for a third movie, or even an entire franchise, sets in. With no intricate story line or exploration of themes, and with the events that K deals with in the final act not being that interesting, the third act feels boring.
“Blade Runner 2049” was a movie so close to being outstanding. Had some of the characters been fleshed out more or were at least better utilized, and if the third act had been done better, it would have easily been one of the best movies of the year. It’s still a great movie that fans of science fiction will probably enjoy, but it ends on a disappointing note.
Final Grade: B+