Movie Review: Blade Runner 2049
More human than human
The original Blade Runner is my favourite film of all time. I have seen every version released to the public several times and possess all manner of memorabilia and fan merchandise. In fact, I make a point of watching the “Final Cut” version of the film at least once a year to remind me of just how good films can truly be. I believe it to be a be a nearly perfect film, that tells exactly the story it needed to and in no way needed a sequel. So if there was ever anyone prepared to hate every aspect of this film, it was me.
I have never been so happy to be wrong…
Director Denis Villeneuve has perfectly captured the broody neo-noir/cyberpunk essence of the original film without ever feeling like a half-baked tribute nor unnecessary fan service. Never before has an old film been revived with such care and dedication to the source material while carving a path to becoming a standout film in its own right. Spellbinding, gripping and an absolute audiovisual tour de force – Blade Runner 2049 is not only a worthy sequel to the original but in my opinion, the best sequel ever made.
Tears in rain…
Set in a dystopian vision of Los Angeles in 2049, the film follows “Agent K” (played by Ryan Gosling at his most intense) – A brooding, trench-coat wearing noir style detective, who’s role echoes that of Harrison Ford’s Deckard in the first film: A titular “Blade Runner”. In this world, artificial humans known as replicants (or by the derogatory slur: “skin jobs”) are manufactured as slave labour to perform the tasks mankind no longer has the stomach for (i.e waste disposal, war, prostitution e.t.c) and any of them who happen to get the idea in their head that maybe being a slave isn’t so great, end up on a Blade Runner’s hit list. They are hunted down by these special police and assassinated, or “retired” as they call it.
The twist this time is that K is himself a replicant; A top of the line model designed for total obedience, who must gun down his own kind without question. It is from this dichotomy of self-interest that this sequel draws its themes.
Cells within cells, interlinked…
You can probably already tell that this is not a hero story. K is an assassin who kills his own people at the behest of his human masters and is afterwards grilled with intense “psychiatric evaluations”, where he must repeat rapid-fire lines of dialogue from Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Pale Fire. A psychotic and terrifying perversion of the first film’s iconic Voight-Kampff humanity test.
Agent K will not be running off to save the world and get the girl. No, Blade Runner 2049 presents us with a world far beyond saving. An oppressive, dead and polluted future where the earth’s ecosystem has already collapsed, corporations have run amok and everyone who could has already escaped earth to live in the glorious off-world colonies. What we get instead is the tale of a missing child. A simple framework in premise, but one that is peppered with lingering questions about the meaning of life, the soul and existentialism.
Is he real?
I don’t know – Ask him
It is fitting then that the most humane character in the entire film is a hologram named Joi (played by Ana de Armas) who injects a twisted sense of warmth and unreality to all the scenes she features in. Joi is K’s digital girlfriend whom he carries around in his pocket and their interactions together are some of the most romantic and heart-warming in the film, while also being the most utterly tragic – Begging the question: Can an AI hologram and an android really love one another? Humans take a back-seat in this film, with the vast majority of the screen time given to its Android and holographic characters. We explore what it is to be human through them – a clever reversal of the themes presented in the original. Where Dekard wondered if he was really human, these characters know they aren’t but wonder what exactly the difference is. A good example is the film’s main antagonist Luv; a cruel and vindictive replicant enforcer played by Sylvia Hoeks, who sheds tears as she murders people. She is constantly conflicted with her disdain for mankind and simultaneous desire to be vindicated by her human owner, the creepy and sinister Niander Wallace (played by Jared Leto). Leto only appears in a small number of scenes but is so intense during them that I emerged from each feeling exhausted. A terrifying performance.
This is not a summer action blockbuster. It takes its sweet time telling its story and setting its tone (with a near 3-hour length). Filled with artful camera angles, masterful use of colours and a soundtrack that assails you with booming bass and synth to the point that the music felt almost like one of the main characters of the film – This is an experience not to be missed. A movie so committed to its own artistic integrity, so utterly uncompromising with what it wants to say, that I am shocked it exists.
A neo-noir art film somehow snuck its way onto the Hollywood big screen with a multimillion-dollar budget. Blade Runner 2049 is the rarest kind of sequel: One that not only does justice to the original, but in many ways superceeds it. A complete masterpiece and one of the greatest science fiction films made in my lifetime.