Film Review – Blade Runner 2049 

Let it be known here and now that although I will note some spoilers for Blade Runner 2049, I will do my very best to make sure that I leave some surprises for any of my readers still on the fence. That being said, if you’re still on the fence a week after the film’s release then this may not sway you. As of this writing the film sits at an 89% on Rotten Tomatoes with a domestic gross of $49 million. That’s not a lot for such a dense sci fi film and as much as I’d love for it to improve in its commercial success (and I, like K am not without hope for something more real), I’m afraid it’s fate is sealed much like its predecessor. The point is most of the population has made up its mind on whether or not they want to see it, and unfortunately a very large portion of society is making a massive mistake. But to each his own. I’ve seen 2049 twice now (I implore any and all who see this film to watch it more than once, it absolutely warrants repeat viewings) and I still feel I need to see it again.  And none of this is because the film has any failings, but rather of its deeper, underlying themes. Every piece of this movie screams perfection and I highly doubt any film released in its wake will match its subtleties or ideas.

Directed by Denis Villeneuve, 2049 stars Ryan Gosling, and Harrison ford, with Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Dave Bautista, and Jared Leto. Set 30 years after the original Blade Runner, 2049 follows Gosling’s Detective K as he discovers the remains of a once-pregnant replicant. He is soon faced with finding the child and preventing all-out war between Replicants and humans. Right off the bat the film gives away K’s identity in that he is a Replicant. Unlike Ford’s Deckard from the first film, the sequel isn’t shy about what K is within 15 minutes of the film’s opening as opposed to the decades old question of whether or not Deckard is in fact a Replicant. That being said in many ways he is the antithesis of Deckard, while also being an amalgamation of both him and the first films real star; Roy Batty. K’s emotional journey is one full of subtleties and enigma as he unravels the mystery before him. From the outset Gosling sells his character as one who is mostly cool under pressure, while also seemingly not having a real taste for his job, yet as he is a Replicant, he must obey. His facial expressions alone sell a character who is wrought with conflict on whether or not he has a soul. Whatever his answer is, the question is one the audience will think about long after the movie ends.  Although the trailers convey that Harrison Ford’s Deckard has a major role to play throughout the course of the film, it was very surprising how right and wrong that idea was. Deckard himself shows up very late in the game, and yet his specter over the film looms large. His character has aged, and while the opening of the film says that Nexus 8 models were introduced with open-ended lifespans, the question of whether or not he is a Replicant is wisely never answered. And yet it is alluded to heavily, but once again that answer is one you’ll have to decide for yourself (Don’t listen to Ridley Scott, you are your own person!). Ford himself brings a world weariness to the role that was already very weary before the first movie even really began, and yet here Deckard is one racked with regret. Its small and while it might not show as much when he first meets K, Ford absolutely crushes in a later scene with Leto’s villain Wallace. He only has two lines in the entire scene, but it is by far the most engaging I have ever found Ford emotionally. In that one scene alone he sells his anger, regret and disgust all in the span of seconds and he absolutely kills it. To see Deckard so changed and haggard after all these years is a delight, and the little screen time he has is worth it so much that any more would have hurt the film rather than help it.

While the men in 2049 bring their A-game, it’s the female characters who steal the show. Both Ana de Armas and Sylvia Hoeks practically dance circles around their male counterparts while also bringing as much to the table if not more than their costars. First up is Sylvia Hoek’s Luv, the Replicant henchwoman under Niander Wallace. While the trailers for the film portray her as a classic number one henchman working for the big boss, I was surprised to learn that Niander Wallace is very much a villain in the movie, while Luv is the villain throughout most of it. Her actions, though in service to Wallace are still very much her own. Like Deckard and K, her performance is one filled with small character notes that have bigger meanings. Like her first and last encounter with Robin Wright’s Joshi. It’s not so much as what she does as opposed to how she feels during and after the encounter. Luv like K, seemingly hates her job and her purpose, yet does so anyway for they must obey. And yet she has this need to compete, to be the best of Wallace’s Replicants. Her job is to find the child for Wallace so that he can breed Replicants at a faster rate so humanity can conquer the stars. Hoeks gives Luv a relentlessness in pursuit of her goal while also giving her vulnerability all at the exact same time. A great moment in the film is when she watches Wallace eviscerate another Luv model right before her, fueling her desire to be the best. She makes for a very layered villain, and while she is no Roy Batty, she still kicks tons of ass throughout the film. But by far, the films MVP belongs to Joi, played by Ana de Armas. She is very much one thing in the trailers and something else entirely in the film. For that alone I give Villeneuve all the props in the world for keeping her role secret amongst all the other secrets they had to keep up until release.  Joi fits perfectly with K, and their relationship is by far one my favorite romantic pairs in years while also being layered and truly beautiful. She exuberates a humanity that is rarely seen on film while also being very much her own driving force for her own actions. The tail end of the film has one final scene with her that completely recontextualizes everything we know about her while also giving the audience another question upon the increasingly mounting questions they will have when the credits role. Their love scene alone parallels the original love scene from the first Blade Runner while also improving in way by saying almost nothing at all. It’s a perfect scene to remarkably perfect film and its hands down one of my favorites. In 2049, women are very much a focal point for a number of reasons, and one of those is their treatment as objects and tools for the advancement of men, but if the ending of the movie is any indication, the future of 2049 is female.

None of this is to say the other characters in the film are lesser than the ones I have mentioned above. Carla Juri stars as Dr. Stelline, a memory designer who implants memories into Replicants. Though her part is small, she’s still very much pivotal to the plot, with larger implications at play when the full extent of her character comes to fruition. Dave Bautista has small role to play as Sapper Morton and though one can assume because of his stature he plays a meandering grunt; his performance is surprisingly thoughtful and human especially when one looks at his character in the 2049 short Nowhere to Run (Watch here). Now I understand many people have trouble with Jared Leto, mostly due to his antics behind the scenes with Suicide Squad. And while I can’t say his Joker was the driving need to see that movie I can say without a shadow of a doubt that he crushes here in his limited capacity. To be completely honest, Leto’s screen time was very surprising to me as I thought he’d have a more prominent role. But like Deckard his specter also hangs over the film, both in terms of his overall goal, and with Luv running around. As a blind industrialist forging a new wave of obedient Replicants, Niander Wallace has something of an God-Complex and I love it. Yes, many will roll their eyes as he is essentially this films Eldon Tyrell. But it’s so much deeper than that. For starters he’s blind and that in contrast with Eldon’s death in the original were his eyes were gauged out works gangbusters. Wallace has the means to build something so much more than what Tyrell did, but he lacks Tyrell’s vision as both a figurative and literal means. And I am here for it. Leto’s Wallace works in the limited capacity he’s in and while part of me wishes there was more of him, I’m glad they went what with they did. Mackenzie Davis shows up as prostitute for a larger underground movement, but I’ll be honest, two viewings in and I couldn’t really get a bead on her character or her motivation. The thread itself works as in it doesn’t come out of left field, but it’s the only plot point that gives me some confusion over an otherwise remarkable film.

I’ll admit that while I was familiar with Jóhann Jóhannsson and his body of work, when it was announced that he was scoring 2049 I remained hesitant. Not because I doubted him, but more so because his work didn’t suggest to me how he could follow up to Vangelis superb score. And then he left the project and was replaced by (my personal favorite) Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallifisch. Hot off of Dunkirk (Which I have to say has an absolutely riveting score), I was excited but almost just as confused when they announced Jóhannsson. Again, it wasn’t because I doubted them (it’s rare I doubt Hans fucking Zimmer in a Triple-A Blockbuster), but because Hans’ body of work is so vast, yet none of it suggests a score to match the original Blade Runner. Boy was I wrong. Zimmer’s score is almost just as riveting as the one he composed for Dunkirk, if not more so. In IMAX it is so loud, yet so ethereal it’s ridiculous. The soundscape encapsulates your ears and drags you into 2049’s dark, and grimy world. It captures the world of Blade Runner from 30 years ago, while also complimenting the dark future it still exists in. Hell were it not for the fact I greedily listened to the soundtrack days before I saw the movie, I would’ve sworn the horn that was used was meant to be the flying cars that roar overhead. It’s bombastic and drastically loud-and-in-your-face when it needs to be, but for most of the time it really hits the notes I was expecting and the ones I wasn’t like the love scene (there’s something so damn sinister about the music in that scene, yet it works so well). At times I feel I can even hear bits and pieces of Jóhannsson in some of the soundtrack like; Wallace, but it has yet to be determined if Zimmer kept some of his original pieces. It should be said that in some respects I prefer Vangelis’s score to this one, if only because Vangelis had more variety in his score with jazzier undertones than say Zimmer’s drums and horns. And understand that’s not to take away from Zimmer, I’ve been listening to the 1982 soundtrack for years now, but that doesn’t mean what Zimmer crafted here isn’t worth it. It very much is, and with this particular film it works on multiple layers. I recommend any cinephile out there who enjoys soundtracks to get on it immediately.

In a way I feel bad for saying that no film may match this for what remains of the year. To have this much to say in a Triple-A Blockbuster, and not do well like it’s been doing is an absolute crime. Villeneuve crafted a dour, and arguably nihilist film that’s banks hard on its themes, and doesn’t give the audience any handholding in pursuit of what it’s trying to say. The Post-Traumatic Stress Test scene is a high example of that, where the audience is just dropped in without question. For many that could be a turn off (Evidently), but for some of us, it’s all we need. Too few risks are taken in the pursuit of a grade-A popcorn flick, and something as high-minded this faltering because…well reasons just baffles me. I get it, different strokes for different folks, but with something as big as this failing at the box office and the difficulty of getting original science fiction movies made, well I don’t won’t to hear any complaining about the latter (It should be noted that I saw this both times with my girlfriend and her sister in the Netherlands, and both times the theater was absolutely slammed). It should be noted that I’ve yet to give Roger Deakins his due for this film and for that I sorely apologize. For all this film is (and it is a lot), the one thing that cannot be overstated is how unapologetically gorgeous this film is. Holy hell the shots in this are so damn beautiful it’s worth the price of admission alone. From LAPD police cars hovering between huge Atari buildings, to agent K slowly making his way through an irradiated Las Vegas, this film is packed with gorgeous scenery and if you have the opportunity: See. It. In. IMAX. It’s worth every second just for that alone.

Blade Runner 2049 had an impossible amount of hype to live up to. The biggest of which was leading up to a massive cult hit film that still divides the film community to this day. Blade Runner (1982) is very much a film you either love or you hate, and depending on your enjoyment of that will very much depend on your enjoyment of this. But it is so worth it. There’s years’ worth of content and meaning to be mined from this, and in a just world this would be sitting pretty at the top of the Box Office right now without a care in the world. But our world, much like Blade Runner’s is unfair. Still the success of this movie doesn’t mean one can’t enjoy it and I suggest any who watch this film should pair it with Alien: Covenant if they’re looking for some Android-Being-Better-At-Being-Human drama. With stunning cinematography from Roger Deakins, complemented by Han Zimmer’s grandiose score, and some all-time high performances from a bevy of great actors, Blade Runner 2049 is not a film to be missed. I was beyond excited when it was announced that they were doing a sequel to the original, yet I was anxious about how to continue the story decades later. Now I have my answer. 2049 is one of the rare sequels that happen decades after the original (a-la The Force Awakens, Tron: Legacy), and succeeds. It amazes, and astonishes while asking big important questions like; What does it mean to have a soul? A perfect puzzle piece that fits right in with the 1982 original, Blade Runner 2049 is a masterpiece in filmmaking and it needs to be seen to be believed.

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