Blade Runner 2049 is the most beautiful movie ever made, but is that enough?
Blade Runner 2049 is the biggest argument of style over substance.
35 years after the first movie - but set 30 years after the events within that first movie - the much-anticipated sequel had everything in place it might need to be a masterpiece.
Director Denis Villeneuve has quickly become everyone's favourite director after rolling out Prisoners, Sicario and Arrival in such rapid succession, three of the best movies to be released within the last five years.
Ryan Gosling continues to be one of the most sought after actors of the generation, having already been nominated twice for the Best Actor Oscar, all without alienating the blockbuster-going public.
Harrison Ford would be returning to the role of Deckard, potentially to finally answer the Is-He-Or-Isn't-He-A-Replicant? that has been plaguing fans of the original for over three decades. Ford says he isn't. Ridley Scott, director of the original, says he is. 2049 might definitive answer it once and for all.
Just to get a little bit geeky, Hans Zimmer would be providing the score, and Roger Deakins would be providing the cinematography. To put it plainly, they are two of the best in the world at what they do, so sonically and visually, it should be unparalleled.
And to be fair, it is. Blade Runner 2049 needs to be seen on IMAX or on the biggest screen you can get your eyes on with the loudest speakers attached, so you can be mercilessly pummelled by the absolute sensory perfection that the movie provides.
But is that enough to call it a masterpiece?
In a word: No.
Clip via Warner Bros. Pictures
The original movie was based on a book by sci-fi mastermind Philip K. Dick, and was adapted by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples, the latter of which is a bit of genius when it comes to hard-boiled lonely men and science fiction, having also written the likes of Unforgiven and 12 Monkeys.
The former, however, did next to nothing in movies until he returned to co-wrote the sequel, with Michael Green, who previously wrote the Ryan Reynolds starring Green Lantern and recent horror sequel Alien: Covenant.
And therein lies the rub, with one of the writers being such a blockbuster-minded scriptwriter, Blade Runner 2049 is caught between the two worlds of beautiful but almost art-house sci-fi of the original, and the "Won't this look cool, who cares if it doesn't really make sense" ideology of current science fiction blockbusters.
It is somewhat understandable, as Blade Runner 2049 has a production budget of $185 million, and to be fair it is all up there on the screen. However, while the original was hugely iconic and still influential to this day, the sequel feels more like a mish-mash of previous science fiction movies, an unfortunate mix of forward-thinking genius (just about every scene involves some piece of jaw-dropping technology), with some very basic-level story-telling. One of the characters is named Luv, and another is named Joi. (Ugh.)
There are bits of Her, bits of The Terminator, bits of Drive (you can't see Gosling's performance here and not immediately think of his driver character), and most of all, bits of Blade Runner.
Well, d'uh, we hear you cry, it is a sequel to Blade Runner. Yes, but how much of Alien did you find in Aliens? Did the oppressive horror of The Terminator really creep that deeply into the balls-out action of Terminator 2? The good-boy hero adventure of Captain America: The First Avenger became a paranoid conspiracy thriller in The Winter Soldier. The down and dirty nature of Batman Begins didn't travel into the sterile madness of The Dark Knight.
The best sequels make their own history, and Blade Runner 2049 will make history for being one of the best looking and sounding movies ever made, but we guarantee you that you'll be poking holes in the story for the hours and days following.
The original was essentially a detective/bounty-hunter on the job, and despite all of the visual fancy, was a fairly straight-forward story, told in less than 2 hours. The sequel gets so convoluted in the story-telling (the plot practically demands that you watch the prequel shorts that were released in the lead-up, lest you get left behind), across the bum-numbing 163 minute run time, that it both ties itself up in knots attempting to explain everything, but also leaves so many loose threads dangling and gaping plot-issues that, even after 35 years of waiting, you'd wish they took more time to iron out.
If you're getting frustrated at the vague-ness we're approaching the plot, that is because Villeneuve himself requested critics not spoil any of the plot points for anyone, and those plot points come thick and fast, with the first major bombshell dropped practically as the opening credits have finished rolling.
And if you're getting disappointed that we sound like we're coming down hugely negatively on the movie, we're not. There is a huge argument to be made in the favour of style taking over substance as the main attraction for some cinematic experiences, and we cannot stress enough the level of artistry on display here. Deakins definitely deserves an Oscar, probably Zimmer too, and this is the most checked in we've seen Harrison Ford be since What Lies Beneath back in 2000.
However, Blade Runner 2049 is like the most attractive person you've ever gone on a date with. Yes, they look great, and yes, they seem perfectly nice, but it sometimes feels like you're finding them more interesting than you would if they weren't quite as visually appealing.