There was quiet, nervous excitement when reviews for the highly anticipated Blade Runner sequel started to trickle out ahead of its Thursday release.
Several outlets in the United States labelled it a “masterpiece”, “mindblowing”, “transportative” and “better than the original”.
“Everyone bow down to Denis Villeneuve,” Collider’s editor-in-chief Steven Weintraub said of the film’s director.
“Make no mistake: Whereas the original Blade Runner was (eventually) embraced for its unrealised potential, its sequel ranks as one of the great science-fiction films of all time,” Variety‘s Peter Debruge opined.
It’s all led to a near deafening roar of hype surrounding the $US280 million ($A356 million) movie starring Ryan Gosling and a returning Harrison Ford.
But while Blade Runner 2049 isn’t a bad film, it’s perhaps not worthy of so much praise and adulation. Here’s why.
1. We didn’t need a sequel in the first place
Ridley Scott’s 1982 original was iconic because of the cultural context it appeared in. Its vision of the future, its breathtaking special effects, its cinematography and Ford’s nuanced performance were all groundbreaking.
Cut forward to 2017 and these things aren’t hard to come by. In fact, they’re rife. Blade Runner may have been the original, but since then so many movies have borrowed from its source material that the sequel feels like an amalgamation of recent films like Villeneuve’s Arrival, Her, Drive and The Ghost in the Shell.
2. It’s too long
At two hours and 45 minutes, the film feels like it drags at times. It reaches its gripping climax at about the two-hour mark, but before that there’s a lot of scene-setting, character development, and gratuitous special effects.
Frankly, there should be an interval or at least a warning about deep vein thrombosis.
3. There are uncomfortable scenes involving women
Sure, many of the women in the film are super-strong robot replicants, but there are several particularly graphic scenes in which they experience stomach-churning violence at the hands of men.
Regardless of their prior positioning as villains, these scenes are still uncomfortable to watch and unnecessarily prolonged.
One of the strongest female characters, played by Robin Wright, is given limited screen time, with the lion’s share going to highly sexualised female fantasy figures.
4. It’s a tad over-complicated
Blade Runner rewards its diehard fans with plenty of nods to the original, but those who haven’t seen it will be left completely in the dark.
A series of bizarre scenes featuring Oscar winner Jared Leto are particularly puzzling and inexplicably obscure.
Hot tip: do your required reading beforehand.
5. It takes itself a bit too seriously
Much of the promotional material for the film has focused on ensuring its plot is not divulged. Before preview screenings, a message from Villeneuve himself appeared on screen, in which he begged audiences not to reveal details of the plot.
— Dustin Chase (@TexasArtFilm) October 2, 2017
That would be all well and good if the plot offered something revolutionary, or had a major twist (like Harrison Ford’s fate in recent Star Wars spinoff The Force Awakens).
Unfortunately, all the secrecy feels unwarranted when you discover the storyline is essentially all about a futuristic existential identity crisis.
But it’s not all bad …
Blade Runner 2049 is a valiant attempt at a sequel and is even engrossing as a standalone film. The special effects are truly jaw-dropping, the soundtrack will give you goosebumps and it’s hard to fault the performances of such a seasoned cast, although, unexpectedly, the unknown actors are the ones who really shine.
What Blade Runner 2049 is not is a masterpiece. Let’s reserve that title for the original.