Blade Runner 2049 is a Denis Villeneuve directed film starring Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford and MY Joker aka Jared Leto. Villeneuve is one of the best directors working in film today, infact if you look at his filmography, with the last 2 as your point of comparison, he continues to surpass himself film after film (Check out Sicario and Arrival). Blade Runner is a follow up to the Ridley Scott directed Blade Runner (1982) that starred Harrison Ford as Rick Deckard, a retired cop, known in the year 2019 as a ‘Blade Runner’ who is tasked with retiring (Killing) human-like androids called replicants. In the original, Ridley Scott is able to create a film noir masterpiece, still highly regarded for its artistry and substance, as it delves on the themes of identity and love. The original ask’s the audience to question their sense of loyalty to ones species vs their sense of compassion and empathy as we witness yh witch hunt of rogue replicants who strive for more than their creators will. Scott was able to paint these non-human characters with so much humanity and complexity, whilst creating an almost un-human like characters for the actual humans in the movie.
In the dystopian future he creates, due to man made pollution and destruction, any wildlife or organic foods are a thing of the past and have been replaced with genetically created crops and mechanically created animals. This absence of life is shown to have utterly deprived humankind off its humanity and they, are the ones shown to behave mechanical, without emotion and completely rational. Deckard is shown to be the same, until he meets Rachel, who is shown to be, unbeknown to her a replicant, through a series of tests Rickard is able to conclusively determine her to be a replicant but when faced with the decision to kill her, he decides against it but instead decides to flee with her. Throughout the film, Rickard is plagued with dreams, specifically of a unicorn, Scott uses this imagery along with Rickard’s tick for tat relationship with Gaff, a colleague who seems to know the contents of his dreams. This was an indicator to the audience that Deckard might have been a replicant himself. The film ended without conclusively stating whether or not Deckard was a replicant but when asked in interviews following the re-relaease of the directors cut of the film, Scott confirmed Deckard to be a replicant.
Blade runner 2049 picks up with this same world 30 years later, as we are introduced to K (Ryan Gosling), a blade runner and replicant who after terminating an older model of replicants stumbles upon a mastery that will drive the film as its main narrative. Within the last 30 years since the original, much has changed, along with the new model of cooperative replicants, the Tyrell company who were the originators of these human-like droids have long since gone bankrupt and have been bought out by the Wallace group headed by godlike mogul Niander Wallace (Jared Leto). Similarly to the original 2049 places K as the central figure in the storyline as it is he who we first meet, we find out what drives him as a replicant and a blade runner and also what differentiates him from others in the world we are watching. K is shown to have a longing desire for love and companionship, a void he attempts to fill by attempting to role play a human like romantic relationship with an artificial intelligence, shown in the form of a woman called Joi (Ana De Armas). Throughout the course of the film, their relationship is shown to have all the traits of a normal relationship apart from the physical sexual experience, an action Joi tries her best to fulfil using another woman (Don’t ask me, just watch it for yourself and see).
Villeneuve is known for not placing style over substance, although his stylistic choices look excellent on screen, he still able to play with numerous concepts whilst delivering a visually outstanding film. On this occasion he had big shoes to fill, with the original being a stand out for Sci-Fi, Scott painted a beautifully disastrous post-modern world with bleak backdrops filled with beautiful neon colours as technology is shown to have advanced well beyond what we can say we have achieved in reality in 2017, 2 years off the original date in the film. 2049 does deliver a visually stunning world, outdoing its predecessor, as the vibrant colours, practical and CG effects blend beautifully to place us the viewers in a believable post-post modern world, its safe to say I am eagerly anticipating a world where flying cars can have drones that survey a large mass of area to let me know if there’s traffic ahead. Back to the Villeneuve, he dances around similar themes to the original with K having an identity crisis near the middle of the second act leading to him to believe he might be the first of his kind, a replicant not created but born.
What is important to note with Gosling’s performance is the expectation leading in, during the marketing campaign, he was sold as the mark 2 version of Deckard’s character from the original, but watching the film I was pleasantly surprised by his performance. His subtle yet strong performance as the lead of the movie would have you believe, as the narrative teased, that he was the character in question, but as we find out in the final act of the film, the child in question isn’t K, leading to this existential crisis. The whole movie had teased his identity being more than what he had always known it to be, but as his character development lead to him breaking out of his usual cycle, it is then shown to be nothing more than a bluff. The film gives subtle red herrings before the final reveal and although the ending teased at the possibility of a final film to complete the trilogy, the ending of K’s story was bittersweet, with his desire for love and a greater identity beyond what he known being left unfulfilled, his final choices maybe gave a glimmer of hope for a far greater development than what is witnessed on the surface. In the first scene of the movie, K before terminating a rogue replicant called Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista) is told that he has never witnessed a miracle, this seems to be what drives him to investigate this rare information of a born replicant, and what ultimately what causes him to help reunite Deckard with his child.
Clocking in at 2 hours and 45 minutes, 2049 is not for the easily distracted or impatient. It is a slow build, a trait of Villeneuve’s recent work (Seriously, check out Sicario and Arrival). The pacing starts off slow and with little to know action in this film, Villeneuve really asks the audience to pay attention, to feel the emotions of the characters both human and replicant and like the original, decide for yourself who the real villains are. This film is not jam packed with dialogue either, yes Leto is in two scenes in the entire movie and his character seems to fall into the Jared Leto archetype character of long emotive dialogue that leave much to be desired, but this film does a lot in silence. It builds, it holds and it grips you with tense and clever camera work. The score alone was excellent but attached with the stunning visuals I spoke about earlier, it really questions your patience as it meticulously plods along with no real desire to rush its conclusion.
It may be easy to say 2049 adopts a lot of what the original started, and so it should. It pays homage to what Scott started but does a nice job of not simply repeating the same narrative in its attempts to appear like a continuation. As I said with K’s character, it’s easy to misjudged and assume he is nothing more than a copy and paste version of Deckard, what it does however, is subte neaunces of the original but with an originality that makes it unique and different. It has no qualms with taking your criticism of it being a replicant itself, but buys into it gaining your attention then delivering a masterpiece that to me stylistically but maybe not thematically surpasses its superior.
When Deckard finally meets K, I expected there to be a witty repartee between them and to a certain degree there was, but at the time the narrative lead to their relationship being more than just an old replicant meeting its newer model, what we did get was great acting. Ford buys into the film and it showed as he seems to have all the charm and vigour he showed in his other reprised role (Han Solo). The scene that stood out to me was the involvement of Rachel’s character from the original, she is repurposed and used as a way to convince Deckard to give up the location of his child, but what I found pretty cool was the way she was used and how CG continues to develop in Hollywood today. When I watched Rogue One, one of the stand out moments was the involvement of the Tarkin scenes. Now everyone that knows Star Wars knows that the actor that played him is longer alive but with the development of CG he was able to still be a fleshed out character before our very eyes. Many weren’t fans and quoted begrudgingly the uncanny valley (Google it), for me, the computer-generated Rachel (Sean Young) that appears in 2049 may be the best example yet of CG being used to resurrected deceased or aged actors for new roles. Villeneuve said in a recent interview “It [takes] very long to do. That’s the thing that maybe saved my ass–is that I limited the amount of shots [with CGI Sean Young in them]“. I can testify that on this occasion, Blade Runner has far less Uncanny Valley than Rogue One suffered.
Blade Runner 2049 has a lot going for it, it is beautiful to watch, smart, and slow but entertaining for the length that it is. It treats the audience, whether you have watched the original or not, with a level of respect allowing you to interpret it how you see fit, but delivers on what the narrative the original started. And although nothing beats an original, I found it to be exactly what it was meant to be, a new story told through the lenses of the old without being an echo but rather creating a harmony that does justice to the beautiful melody the original created.