I may be bullshitting here but there’s somewhat of a stealth criticism against nostalgia toward the end of the second (of a million) acts in Blade Runner 2049. Harrison Ford’s Deckard sets off a hologram of Elvis and explains to solemn do-gooder ‘K’ (Ryan Gosling) about how the song he’s crooning is one of his favorites. The hologram, malfunctioning with many false starts due to age and being housed in a derelict casino ravaged by an unexplained nuclear disaster, reveals one of the many recurring motifs in the overlong runtime: The cost of aging on what we love, or what we perceive to love.
The same can be said for all of this newly rebooted property. It’s not that the same notes are being played (which they are), but the fact that those same notes being played have degrading effect. Nostalgia is warm and cozy until it really isn’t. Once you’ve really given yourself to it, it can take a hold of you like nothing else, suffocating any seemingly new thought. That’s what director Denis Villeneuve has here, folks: a sequel/reboot/whatever masquerading as something much more than a testament to the original Blade Runner’s relevance. All of the original’s painstaking design and visual cues are traded in for something cleaner and a lot more solemn. It’s a case in excessive brooding and dirges, a narrative lost in its own architecture, the skyscrapers and overabundance of design drowning out anything indiscernible from whatever big budgeted movie you saw last week.
It’s been incredibly interesting watching critics try to talk around plot points to please the studio and Villenueve’s desire for secrecy to all viewers. While this is a discussion for another time and in much longer form, the avoidance of dropping spoilers doesn’t really matter when there’s no subtext to be found in the plot. The narrative carts you around like a baby in a stroller hoping to leave you in awe of its masterwork. Jared Leto’s Replicant-creating megalomaniac and his monologues about creation notwithstanding, Blade Runner 2049 wants almost nothing left up to the mind of the viewer. Like the crumbling infrastructure it meditates on in wide-angle shots for god knows how long, it won’t take but a minute to see that the whole damn thing is so hollow inside.
I’d be giving something so gaudy more credit had it understood what makes the original and its source material work so well. Deckard’s love for Rachel isn’t pushed to the point of blunt consummation, because Ridley Scott had trust in his actors to convey enough emotion to make the mind run wild. In here, Ryan Gosling toils over his love for a self-learning hologram catered to boosting him up when it seems like the whole world is against him. It’d make sense if Blade Runner 2049 was about technology’s power over the most boilerplate of emotions: Love, lust, longing, the whole gamut. Villeneuve makes it painfully clear in the opening scene, focusing on an old tree held up by metal cables and stanchions, that humanity and pure id need to be held up by something synthetic. Only in this dystopia? What about in reality? I don’t know, and it doesn’t seem like the filmmakers deem it necessary to respond or expound upon that thought. It’s just a thought.
Blade Runner 2049 is just too clean for its own good. Villeneuve and cinematographer wunderkind Roger Deakins (True Grit) compose some of their most beautiful work given the money funneled into the project. The vast city of LA is a never-ending labyrinth of mist-hued advertisements and crude megastructures. But to me, everything seems so over composed. When every image is a textbook definition of semiotic perfection, where’s the grit? Where’s the hardened edges of the frame that reveal themselves in frenetic sequences? Everything seems so rounded off, creating this visual economy meant to be screen capped for years to come. And again, I’d understand that economy if this were a film about perfection, but this is garishness disguised as such.
Blade Runner 2049 isn’t completely lost in its own void, though. When the small amount of narrative thrust starts moving its players instead of letting them wallow, Gosling and Ford put out their best work in the film. Gosling is a monument of human perfection, constantly getting beaten down without losing beauty, while Ford is more than just grumbles and finger-wagging, a performer who can say so much by doing so little. His world-weary exterior never overshadows his boundless charisma and warmth. Amongst the flattest of storylines, he ends up giving his character more depth than it ever needed, even though Deckard becomes a glorified plot point used to uncover a secret that doesn’t seem vital to unearth in the first place.
For those of you wondering what’s the best way to see something so large in scope, I’ll admit that it’ll probably look pretty good on the biggest screen possible. But then again, the score is Hans Zimmer at his most uninspired, a booming static crackling over scenes where the impact would be completely lost without it. Villeneuve wants us to look upon his work and despair; it’s just too bad that bombast won’t have that desired effect.