Blade Runner 2049 ★★★½

"You do not know what pain is yet. You will learn." ~ Niander Wallace

I was afraid this might happen. Director Denis Villeneuve's sequel to the immortal sci-fi classic "Blade Runner" (1982) was so hyped, so lavished with kudos even before its release, that it could not possibly live up to all the promotion. What's more, I really tried to keep my expectations low, but the outpouring of five-star ratings on this site (500+ as of this writing), made me lower my defenses and ... yeah, damn it ... I was somewhat disappointed. Let's examine why:

1. BACKGROUND. Author Philip K. Dick didn't write a sequel to his 1968 sci-fi novel, "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" There's a good reason for that; he died several months before Ridley Scott's 1982 movie was released. Instead, Dick's good friend K. W. Jeter penned three official and authorized "Blade Runner" titles between 1995 and 2000, attempting to reconcile differences between Dick's book and the movie adaptation. Rights problems scuttled two early attempts to adapt Jeter's work. Then, Scott failed in his attempt in 2007 to create an "off-world" sequel called "Metropolis" and was subsequently unable to produce a "Blade Runner" prequel called "Purefold" with his brother Tony in 2009. This was a sure sign that whatever I was about to see would bear little resemblance to the brilliant work of the original author.

2. THE WRITING. None of Jeter's books were used as source material for Villeneuve's film. The fellow who ultimately developed this story was Scott's original scriptwriter Hampton Fancher, who had not scripted a feature since 1999. He was aided by TV writer Michael Green, whose only feature script prior to 2017 was "Green Lantern" (2011). I've got to say many aspects of this film that dissatisfied me relate directly to the script, which seemed unnecessarily bloated. As an example, it takes a movie screen full of text at the beginning just to set up the story before there is any action ... almost always a bad sign (with "Star Wars IV" being a notable exception). Also, there are almost too many side stories to count. Some pruning, additional editing and a run time of two hours or less would have greatly improved this.

3. THE "REAL D" EXPERIENCE. Like an idiot, I once again paid a surcharge to see the 3-D version of a film not at all committed to use of the medium. There was absolutely nothing I saw that made me glad I was wearing sunglasses in the dark theater. Nothing except maybe the floating yellow subtitles used for occasional language translations.

4. THAT SOUNDTRACK. I've seen high praise for the Hans Zimmer-Benjamin Wallfisch score and the sound work, but people ... please ... music and sound effects should enhance the visual experience not overtake it like a tsunami. The shot of a police car cruising through a light rain gets the same high volume booming orchestration as a storm or a missile attack. It really got annoying, to the point where I wished I had brought my earplugs.

5. UNDER-UTILIZED ACTORS. So much more could have been made of Robin Wright's character, Lieutenant Joshi, who is the LAPD boss overseeing the Nexus 8 clean-up. We needed to see more of her interactions with K (Ryan Gosling) similar to the drink she has in his apartment. Such a waste of star power. And I thought Jared Leto should have had more screen time, too, as the half-blind replicant-making genius Niander Wallace. And then, there's Harrison Ford reprising his role as Rick Deckard, hidden from view till the third act and then immediately made the center of attention. C'mon Villeneuve! A couple of earlier flashbacks showing him would have helped set up his importance, no?

6. DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN. When Scar-Jo gave us surrogate sex in "Her" (2013), it was a sexy novelty. When Ana de Armas as the holographic Joi gives us her version here by jumping into the body of prostitute Mariette (Mackenzie Davis), it still felt sexy but derivative. Also, the miracle-baby-changes-the-world trope was already handled beautifully by "Children of Men" (2006), but not so beautifully here with all the misdirection and data juggling. And although I love Las Vegas dearly and marvel at how it seems to find its way into every big film, could we please, please not have to see Elvis and Old Blue Eyes reenactments? It's just so damn 20th century.

7. NITS TO PICK. By 2049, the world can feed itself, but it still can't deal with garbage, so San Diego becomes L.A.'s latest landfill? Really? And a Dickensian army of orphans forced into child labor can be hidden under the noses of a police force with surveillance cameras that see through walls and find objects buried underground? And the product placement! Couldn't SONY and Coca-Cola be a little more blatantly commercial?

8. BUT IT'S A GOOD MOVIE. Really. It is. I liked Gosling's performance. Got a kick out of all the languages used, especially lots of Japanese. And speaking of kicks, Sylvia Hoeks as the replicant Luv gets the prize for best use of designer boots to stomp on people (her blade work is first-rate, too). Yeah, Deakins nailed the cinematography, as ever. And among the fun surprises were seeing Edward James Olmos as Gaff, Sean Young as Rachael, Barkhad Abdi as Doc Badger, and Dave Bautista as Sapper Morton. Sadly, it's just a very good film, not an excellent one, and nowhere near the 4.5-star rating of its predecessor.

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