Skip to main content

Blade Runner 2049: Beautiful but flawed

Blade Runner is one of my favorite films. It is layered with meaning and questions and themes that take you in all sorts of directions. And I found Director Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival one of the most thought-provoking and moving science fiction films I’ve ever seen.

So, I really, really wanted to love Blade Runner 2049. But I just couldn't. Perhaps if I'd never seen the original film, this one would feel fresher. As it is, it feels like a drawn out epilogue of the original that could have been at least an hour shorter.

At the writing of this post, the film has an 88 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes and 83 percent rating for users, so I get that this obviously puts me in the minority. Still, I found the film a disconnect on multiple levels.

First, there were inconsistencies and unevenness that kept knocking me out of the story. Some were little, like where did the flower come from in a landscape where there is no living vegetation. Others were character related, like Jerod Leto’s Wallace. The character was so unsympathetic that I found him completely unrelatable; it made me appreciate Joe Turke’s Tyrell (who also appears in only a couple scenes) who leaves me both horrified by his corporate treatment of life while also, paradoxically, horrified by his death. I am only repulsed by Wallace.

(Okay, major spoiler warning. Highlight to read—and only read only if you’ve seen the movie.)

And then there’s Stelline. (Who is very aptly named, by the way; I will give this film one thing—it names its characters with purpose.) She’s presented as empathetic and caring, so why would she knowingly give such a terrible memory to a replicant—and then allow him to believe it was his? Does she know who she is? Was she instrumental in the plans to protect her identity, so she did it out of necessity but with regret? Or is she resentful and capricious after being locked in a bubble for most of her life?

Some of the questions could have been easily answered—or at least hinted at—which would have left us pondering the implications rather than perplexed. In the end, it leaves me thinking it is a consequence of a film that tries to take on too much and ends up with a thin veneer of the issues rather than a deep exploration of them.

Another example of that is Joi, K’s holographic girlfriend. The film seems to be expanding the question of what makes a being human to include AIs, but I couldn't help thinking about other films and stories that did a better job with that—like Her, which wrestles far more successfully with AI identity and our relationship to technology. The theme feels tacked on rather than integral to the story.

Blade Runner 2049 tackles the same questions and themes as Blade Runner—and even seeks to expand them—but it feels much thinner. And while it has unbelievably stunning visuals and a beautiful soundtrack, it's missing the grit of the original; it feels so smooth and polished—too polished.

I’m not saying that Blade Runner doesn’t have its weaknesses. But they didn’t knock me out of the story. I found Blade Runner’s world consistent enough that I could immerse myself in it with ease and the key characters were flawed and relatable which allowed me to love them. Ken Morefield hits the nail on thehead in his short but spot-on review: “Mood to burn, but I want a story, dammit. I didn’t care about any of these characters…and I used to care about at least one of them.”

But as I said earlier, I'm in the minority here. And I even hesitated writing this review because I really like Villeneuve’s work. So, I hope you like 2049 more than I did. Because I really wanted to.