Review: Blade Runner 2049

Initial Impressions

I’ll let you know right now, reader, that Blade Runner is my absolute favorite sci-fi film ever constructed. I should say both Blade Runner films are my favorite, as that would be the truth. This film was the one I saw first, close to when it came out back somewhere around 2017. My dad introduced it to me with a line something like “There’s a Blade Runner sequel coming out. Isn’t that awesome?” My response at the time was “What’s Blade Runner?”

Oh boy. If I only knew the kind of magic I would be introduced to. I was fourteen or fifteen then, and I was under the impression that movies would no longer be able to enchant me like the Lord of the Rings or Star Wars had done when I was eight.

Then we watched it. It was the most fascinating, brutal, and visually stunning film I’d ever set my eyes upon. There was no lack of nudity (the director is French-Canadian, after all), but that wasn’t why I was interested in it. My eyes were glued to the colors and the cinematography.

So yes, I’ve seen this film twice now. I just watched it the night before writing this. But I think it needed two watches for me to really grasp it, especially now that I’m older, more versed in Blade Runner in general, and with a capability to understand what it is I’m seeing. So let’s get into the review.

Acting

Certain actors gave better performances than others; the leads were the better out of the cast, which is definitely what you want as a director. Ryan Gosling is generally an endearingly deadpan kind of personality, and so the role of an unfeeling android suited him perfectly. He seemed the same in press junkets for this film as he did in the actual role – no insult intended. Opposite him, Harrison Ford was consistently Harrison Ford. His role in this film wasn’t a big one, though the scene where he meets the clone of Rachel was quite well acted.

Jared Leto as the villain of the story was a great choice. He’s brilliant at being a character actor, especially when it comes to the evil sort. He was strange, uncomfortable to watch at a few points, and a great all around psycho with a God complex. I read that David Bowie was the original choice for Wallace, though he passed away before the filming began. That would’ve been incredible to see, but Jared Leto makes a brilliant replacement and suits his role perfectly.

The females in the film provide lots to talk about. Ana de Armas was a great choice for Joi, and got me to feel a shred of sadness when her little computer device keeping her alive got crushed near the end. Her interpretation of a computerized girlfriend made to say and do whatever her owner wants was both distant and cold, as well as warming and endearing. Sylvia Hoeks was an actress I’d never seen before. She shined in her role as Luv, a Terminator-like hitwoman servant of Wallace. She was suitably robotic, menacing, and violent, while still retaining a femininity meant to be disarming. I ended up being interested in her character, though I was cringing in disgust at most of her inventive murder techniques.

Overall, the acting from the leads was great. Some supporting characters drew me out of the story a little with less than acceptable performances, though my bar for actors is not a high as some people’s. As long as I can suspend my disbelief, I’ve seen people in real life interact in strange ways, and so acting that might be a little off isn’t a deal-breaker.

Writing/Story

Beautiful, complex, sometimes confusing, but all around gorgeous. The writing in this film utilized the central themes of Blade Runner to great effect. The ending in particular, though contentious and disliked by some, is stunningly poignant and beautiful if you understand what it means. If you don’t, I’ll tell you.

Officer K (Ryan Gosling) delivers Rick Deckard to the building his miracle daughter now inhabits. He tells him to go see her, and that “all the best memories are hers.” Harrison Ford goes in to see his daughter he’s never met. Now K is alone in the snow and we hear the familiar sound of Tears in the Rain. If you remember from the first film, that piece plays over Roy Batty’s final monologue – which happens to be about the futility of living, and that life and memories will turn to dust when one dies. K is a replicant, and everything he lived since he was constructed is gone, all his memories, real and fake, will be lost once he dies. His duty is fulfilled – he reunited Deckard with his daughter. Those two can now live in freedom, and (assuming Deckard is human and not a replicant) they can live to the full extent of human life. Also interesting to note that K, the android, lived more of a real life than Deckard’s daughter, who was his living female counterpart, trapped in a synthetic cage the entire film.

That’s my interpretation of it. Is it what the writer intended? Maybe. You can probably Google it and find out.

Some parts were not so elegant, however. The entire deal with the underground society of freedom-fighting replicants was a little corny and unneeded. Connecting the prostitute character to it was also unnecessary. It never really amounted to anything, and just acted as a segue to get K out of the crisis section of the story arc and back into the action after Deckard is taken and Joi is “killed.” It also acted as a final connecting point for the prostitute character (I don’t remember her name – it wasn’t said that much in the film, if at all) and ensured she had a final goal and purpose aside from being “just a prostitute.” Overall useless to the story, in my view. I guess it also gave K a group of people to belong to, as he was kind of a loner throughout the movie, though he dies at the end anyway, and so it never amounts to anything lasting. Though maybe that’s the point.

Apart from that really egregiously obvious bit, the writing was lovely. Slow at some points (I don’t think the movie needed to be almost three hours) but lovely nontheless.

Cinematography

Roger Deakins changed my life and my way of seeing films just with this one movie. He is my all time favorite cinematographer, mostly because he’s beyond talented. He doesn’t like to use green screen that often, I’ve heard, and so he uses darkness and big, black sheets as background so that he doesn’t have to pollute his image with computer junk. What an incredible perspective and aptitude for his profession. Most people throw up a green screen and end up having to rotoscope everything out anyway (cough… cough.. Marvel… cough), but this is the epitome of great artistic craftsmanship. Every shot in this film could be a painting, and a certain couple shots have become iconic images in both sci-fi, and filmmaking in general. Those would be the orange desert and the giant pink Joi leaning down to look at K on the balcony. (Pictured below)

Roger Deakins loves color in this movie, and he uses lots of it to create really outlandishly beautiful, surreal, sci-fi environments that look like something other than the real world. Part of this must be attributed to production design, but without the cinematography, none of it would have sold as perfectly as it did. I can’t express how much I love movies that have a “look.” You can make a film in the real world with real colors and environments without putting much effort into your look, but to be completely honest, I’ll get visually bored with it. If I want cold, blue-toned streets, I can walk outside and look around. If I want bland, unlit, suburban house interiors, I can open my eyes in the morning. Put something interesting on the screen for me to look at. I don’t care about your story or your acting if I’m falling asleep watching it. That’s why Roger Deakins will forever be my favorite, because even when he’s filming in a house, or a street, he lights in creatively, frames it beautifully, and keeps me awake.

Music

Holy sweet mother, the music in this film is magic. Vangelis composed the score for the original, and Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch reimagined his auditory vision for this sequel. The music for Blade Runner has influenced so many soundtracks, songs, and anything else to do with audio since it came out in the eighties. There’s a reason for that. It immediately warps you to the dystopian, smog-filled, advertisement littered streets of Los Angeles in the future. It sets the tone and holds you for the entire film. Generally, the music in this sequel was a little more visceral and mechanical, which suits the tone of the film. this is a sequel, taking place years after the first one, and everything has gotten worse on earth. The soundtrack should represent the dirt, smog, and metal, and it does beautifully.

One thing to note that I picked up. On the track Sea Wall, the synths swell and crash like waves. How perfect, since the scene takes place over the Sea Wall, which is holding the ocean back from the city. The characters are fighting in the ocean, being pushed and dragged by waves. It takes a creative mind to decide that the music should match the waves the characters are fighting in.

Rewatchability

I always judge a film by how it makes me feel. I’ve said this a hundred times. Blade Runner 2049 is a film I would watch many times over, and that’s a rare thing for me. I can count on one hand the movies I’d enjoy watching more than once. There’s very few, but this film, as well as the first one, are both on that exclusive list.

The visuals, music, and story all combine to create an experience I find myself wanting to have multiple times. It’s a piece of film art, not made for the casual audience, but rather for one who enjoys the art of filmmaking and the art of humanity. This is a film that people have shit on, and continue to shit on, because they either find it confusing, or boring and too full of itself. The first film had the same reception, because it is, in complete honesty, kind of weird. It’s dystopian, which some people hate in general, but it also takes it’s time and immerses you in it’s world. For a casual viewer that wants a fast, entertaining jolt, they’ll find themselves hating this movie.

Final Thoughts

Our modern film experience is one that’s similar to many other aspects of our lives: quick, flashy, stimulating, and not to deep or thoughtful. I’m not here to lecture on the nature of society and people nowadays, but it’s important to note this fact when analyzing this film. It’s no Marvel or Disney flick. There’s no superheroes or laser beams or Vin Diesel attaching rockets to his sports car and flying through the sky. It’s grounded in another place, and it tries to show you that other place for three hours of your time. If you don’t have three hours to be taken to another place, then this movie isn’t for you. If you don’t like violence or dystopia or analyzing the nature of what it means to be alive, this isn’t for you. I read a review that said something along the lines of: “the girl is hot, but I don’t understand the point of the film if the replicants aren’t replicants anymore.”

If anything like that crossed your mind, this movie isn’t for you.

Because to be honest, this reviewer missed the entire point of Blade Runner. The whole question of the story is what it means to be human. It’s not humans fighting killer robots.

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