Blade Runner 2049 - Denis Villeneuve
In 1982, Ridley Scott released his film adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” entitled Blade Runner. Outside of a few elements, the movie couldn’t have been more different from the book, focusing much more on the humanity of the replicants than the status quo of the society in Dick’s novella. The movie was rather unsuccessful at the box office, but its impressive visuals and memorable dialogue has garnered it a devoted cult following, and even spawned a few novel sequels written by K.W. Jeter. Now, 35 years after its release, Denis Villeneuve (Arrival) took it upon himself to make a sequel to Blade Runner, which with the exception of Harrison Ford and Edward James Olmos reprising their respective roles, features an entirely new cast of actors and actresses including Ryan Gosling, Sylvia Hoeks, and Jared Leto.
Blade Runner 2049 takes place thirty years after the original Blade Runner when the replicants have been “perfected” by the Wallace Corporation, who took over after Tyrell Corporation fell apart. We are introduced to a new replicant bounty hunter who simply goes by K (Ryan Gosling). K lives in an apartment with his holographic girlfriend, Joi (Ana de Armas), and after retiring Sapper Mourton (Dave Bautista), he finds a box that contains replicant remains. After realizing that the body was pregnant, he is sent on an investigation to find “the miracle baby.” Wallace (Jared Leto) sends a replicant named Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) to stalk K and capture “the miracle” so that he can use it to engineer replicant reproduction. So the race for “the miracle” begins.
Audiences tend to expect late sequels like this one to be nothing but a giant action sequence. Blade Runner could not be further from that at all. At an almost three-hour runtime, the movie focuses on character development and world-building than anything else, but movie’s most amazing feature is how hard it is to tell who’s human and who isn’t. K’s investigation becomes an odyssey of doubt, his origins called into question following some revelations about “implanted” memories. He begins the movie as an emotionally cold agent with little regard for himself or others, much like Deckard in the original Blade Runner, but as the movie progress, we see his emotions and actions becoming more identifiably human. In direct opposition is the threat of Luv, who becomes more cold-blooded and violent as she nears her objective, although she’s driven by a very human obsession and sense of cruelty. Deckard (Ford) is exactly who we expect him to be after thirty years of complete isolation: lonely, gruff, and numb until Rachel, his lover, is brought up. Finally, while he doesn’t have much screen time, Wallace is an ominous, unfeeling figure in the shadows, a businessman corrupted by his own power and influence. Of all these physical characters, however, the most human of them all is Joi. Her character is shown on multiple occasions wishing she could be more than what she is for K, from getting romantic with him to supporting him emotionally through his journey.
Blade Runner is lauded for its amazing cinematography and futuristic set design, but 2049 amps them up to a whole new level. Los Angeles is a wasteland of advertisements, but it’s just as dark and rainy as it was thirty years prior. Wallace’s pyramid building mirrors Tyrell’s, but its bright colors contrast against the darkness of the city, showing us how much more powerful Wallace has become than Tyrell ever was. Las Vegas is as vibrant as this movie gets, drenched in desert-orange. Most shots concentrate on depicting size and scope, immersing us in the world of Blade Runner 2049.
These shots are accompanied by a beautiful score by Hans Zimmer, whose ambient, atmospheric score may not be Vangelis, but does justice to his acclaimed work on the original Blade Runner. The score does an incredible job making us feel small and alone in this huge, alien world of the future, and somehow retains its ethereal quality even when it ramps up for an action sequence. There are very few big action moments other than the final sequence, but they are all completely satisfying. The choreography is beautiful and natural, so even when we have characters beating each other to death, they feel intrinsically connected by their own humanity, a rare feeling in today’s action movies.
You don’t need to have watched the original to understand Blade Runner 2049. Obviously, some ideas are carried over and developed, and some references are made to Scott’s original, but 2049 takes the time to explain the connections between itself and its predecessor, which is something not enough sequels take into consideration. I’ll admit that this movie isn’t for everyone. Like the best sci-fi, it’s a slow-burn that focuses on understanding K’s character and the world around him--the action scenes are pretty minimalist, driven by unextravagant hand-to-hand combat, but what the movie does best is show that big-budget movies can still be artful. In a world where The Emoji Movie exists, it’s a breath of fresh air knowing that movies like Blade Runner 2049 can still be made at all.
- Alex Brown
"Curtains" is where you can catch movie reviews by the Metal Lifestyle staff.