Written by Michael Green and Hampton Fancher and directed by Denis Villeneuve “Blade Runner: 2049” has finally released thirty-five years after the original “Blade Runner” hit cinemas in 1982. Ridley Scott’s film may not have done all that well in its box office run but has since become a titan of science fiction influence grasping through the decades to expand its drudgy, wet, and dismal reach. A sequel to “Bladerunner” could have been a cash-grab from a greedy, blockbuster-foaming studio-but much to the relief of fans of the original, and newcomers to the franchise, “2049” stands apart from the original in scope and sensibility but feels entirely part of the world that Ridley Scott brought to life decades ago. In short- this sequel is as good as anyone could have hoped for and a brilliant film in its own right.
This is a film that deserves a second viewing, almost near demanding the audience of it in order to digest everything that we’re presented with. Luckily, the film is gorgeous and a beautiful spectacle to behold. The sights and sounds of this film are why I go to the movie theater. This is an absorbing film experience. Roger Deakins, the cinematographer of the film, has earned the accolades that the critics have been heaping on him. In this version of the future Los Angeles, it snows. The mountainous monoliths of architecture feel familiar, yet dwarf the landscape of the original in this labyrinth of buildings crammed and squeezed together. The encroaching tendrils of mother nature are kept at bay with gigantic walls to bend the ocean to our will, overbearing and frequent snowplows meander the street pushing heavy wet snow out of the way, and when it rains; it pours a near never ending deluge of water. The score is another gigantic factor in this film as Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch insert enough auditory callbacks to the bellowing synth of the original while also playing with some powerful tones that reminded me of a sort of Mongolian throat singing crafted to foster a sense of inescapable doom. I really loved that the film was perfectly happy to let a quiet scene play out in contrast to the overwhelming score in other scenes. Pairing sight and sound like this created something of a vacuum seal of immersion for me, it was enrapturing. The way Deakins frames each scene is a treat every time a scene cuts to a new location or new character. It’s every DP’s wet dream of colors and movement. Not to mention the exquisite use of lighting, shadows, and silhouettes- film professors and students will likely use this as an example for years to come. So, the film is beautiful-but does the story serve this visual feast?
Yes. I will leave all spoilers to be discovered upon viewing as that’s how I saw the film the initial time and my viewing was that much richer of an experience because of it. I will say though that as far as the performances go, every actor and actress pulled off believable, charming, brooding, and menacing roles that fit the world and the story perfectly. Some have criticized Jared Leto’s performance as “just another weird role from him” and while his character is definitely egotistical and over the top-that’s part of his character and it makes sense given the context of the film. I see no major faults in any of the performances, they fit the mold, and more importantly, the feel of “Bladerunner”. Particularly surprising and equally delightful were Ana de Armas as Joi the artificial love interest of Ryan Gosling’s officer K, and Sylvia Hoeks as Luv, the fierce and terminator-like personal replicant servant of Jared Leto’s Niander Wallace. Both women showed off strong and powerful performances that helped to tie everything together in a painful and lonely punch to the gut. Speaking of which, Ryan Gosling’s performance as Officer K is the linchpin of this whole film, if he couldn’t sell his character’s story as efficiently as he did, the film would have fallen apart. He also gets his fair share of being on the wrong end of many fists throughout the story. After “The Nice Guys”, and now “2049”, Gosling might just be the character actor casting agents seek out when they need a protagonist that can take a few punches to the face while keeping his cool. Of course Harrison Ford cannot be forgotten, he may have given the best performance so far in this recent character revival of his. He wasn’t overused and he was absolutely integral to the plot in a way that was far bigger than I had expected out of this story. Lastly, it must be said- who doesn’t love Dave Bautista and how he has grown as an actor in these recent years? His role here as Sapper Morton was touching while retaining the fact that he’s a force to be reckoned with.
There is a large effort here to posit many philosophical questions about the nature of life and humanity, and while the film doesn’t always answer what it asks- it ponders them with considerable thought. There is, of course, the premise from the first film that still holds a place in the story questioning what is it to be human? “2049” expands on a deeper analysis of similar topics. What is the cost of slavery, and subsequently what does it mean to be free? What is a soul, and how do we decide who has one and if that means that humanity is better than the machines that experience life almost as equally as we do? What is an identity? What is real, and does it even matter? This is post modernism at its peak. The film also cleverly hides a litany of literary references and classic literature buffs will likely delight in the joy of recognizing the prose of Nabokov’s “Pale Fire” in a $150 million dollar blockbuster sci-fi film. From “Treasure Island” to “Peter and the Wolf” and Charles Dickens, the film steeps itself in remnants of our past to better situate itself as an awful outcome of our own history.
“Blade Runner: 2049” is a feat of science fiction filmmaking and I personally got a lot out of the film and will be seeing it in theaters at least once more. It’s worth mentioning that this is a very long film and it is a slow paced one at that. While there is a lot more happening in this story than the original it takes its time to tell us. This film will not be everyone’s favorite film of the fall, some might even outright hate it-but if you enjoyed the original film and you have a love of film, especially genre films, you will probably find something to love in “2049”, I certainly did.
Final Score: Nine off-world planets