Review: Blade Runner 2049
The Blade Runner films are beautiful. They show us a dark, polluted, dangerous world. But they’re beautiful. 1982’s Blade Runner was a poetic film noir set in a futuristic dystopia, where Rick Deckard hunts a renegade group of replicants, androids. It was pessimistic and downbeat, moody and atmospheric, a movie that was strangely relaxing and surprisingly moving at times (the “tears in rain” speech).
25 years later, the world is given a gift and that is Blade Runner 2049. Reminiscent of how The Empire Strikes Back contrasted with the original Star Wars, 2049 doesn’t try to match the original’s tone nor does it xerox its plot structure beat for beat. Instead, the filmmakers (director Denis Villeneuve, producer Ridley Scott, and screenwriters Hampton Fancher and Michael Green) allow the sequel to have its own individuality.
The image of a tree is offered up a few times within the film. Imagine the film as that tree, the original film is the seed that tree sprung from, planted with a sense of organicity rather than artificialness. Instead of Blade Runner Again, we’re given a standalone continuation, a film that plays just as well even if the first film never existed. The film isn’t a series of scenes where one character says to another, “Hey, remember that time Deckard was dreaming about the unicorn?” We aren’t handed scenes directly copied from the previous movie. No character mutters a speech like Rutger Hauer did. In fact, I honestly can’t remember his character, Roy Batty, being mentioned. If he was, it wasn’t an your face “winky winky” moment. The main character, K, played by Ryan Gosling, isn’t Harrison Ford: Part II. He’s not exclusively chasing after another band of misfit replicants (it’s something far more interesting this time, but my lips are sealed) and, more importantly, there’s no question of his identity. He knows he’s a replicant.
A surprise to me, the part I found most interesting was a romantic subplot between K and an A.I. companion, Joi, played by Ana de Armas. Joi is a mass-marketed product, a fabricated mate that is bought and sold in a store. Whether or not the love K and Joi share is real or fake can be debated, but there does seem to be a theme in the film that these machines are more human than people think. They are capable of feelings, emotions, and attachments, and in some ways, they are more relatable, fleshed out, and likable than the actual humans in the film (take into the account the humans who scream, shout, and spit on “skinjobs” and some of the things Robin Wright says in the film). This calls to mind the Descartes quote Pris said in the first film, “I think therefore I am.” This romantic subplot features a show-stealing scene that is well-choreographed, that could either be beautiful or flat out weird. You’ll have to decide on that.
And then there’s Harrison Ford. He brings his gruff and cantankerous as ever charisma to the role, which seems natural to a man (or replicant?) that has spent a lifetime taking punches and washing the blood away with whiskey. At one point, K inquires about Deckard’s dog, is it real or is it synthetic? The answer seems to come right from Ford’s heart, “Does it matter?” From a storytelling perspective, it may matter what character is a replicant and what character isn’t. But from a theological point of view and looking back on the themes, characters, and romances of both films, does it matter?
I’ll be honest, it’s rather hard to discuss the film in great detail, particularly plot elements, because the further I reveal, the more you lose from the experience, and that’s what this film is, an experience.
Like its predecessor, Blade Runner 2049 is a movie that requires your full attention. It can’t be on in the background. You need to feel the ambience and exoticness of the score, breathe in the “neon in rain” environments and scenery, and read the scenes like a book. Immerse yourself and let the film suck you in. You’ll thank yourself if you do