FILM REVIEW [BLADE RUNNER 2049]
The ideas in Blade Runner were what made it such a cult hit, the need to go back to that world again and again to ponder the questions it raised. To that end Blade Runner 2049 continues the tradition, there is a lot left to ponder when you leave the cinema and subsequent viewings will reveal things missed the first time around. This is a long movie that makes you feel every minute of it but patient viewers should find many rewards.
Keeping to a minimum any plot spoilers, Ryan Gosling plays a Blade Runner named “K” in this new movie. While on a case he discovers a secret that warrants further investigation, with links to the past that could shake the modern world. This will lead him to Harrison Ford’s Deckard, but this is Gosling’s film first and foremost. It will also take him to the corporation that now produces replicants 30 years on from the original movie. Run by Niander Wallace, Jared Leto plays him as a power-mad genius with a God like complex. Sylvia Hoeks plays his replicant offsider Luv in a performance that will be discussed for years to come, Luv visibly emotes several times (the shedding of tears repeats throughout like the viewing of eyes in the original) yet her motivations and true feelings remain a mystery. She’s pretty good at delivering karate kicks too.
There are two women in K’s life; the first is his boss Lt. Joshi played by Robin Wright who has a ruthless side but also maybe a soul. The second is at the heart of the film’s themes with the most fascinating relationship dynamic. K like Deckard before him is socially withdrawn and isolated. Deckard drank and had a piano. K has a hologram named Joi that looks like Ana De Armas and responds to his every prompt even when he doesn’t realize he’s prompting. Obviously that kind of technology could be used for one thing but K is trying not to follow that path. He wants a real relationship with Joi where she develops her own thoughts and feelings and gets her own freedom. Throughout we see her as a cheerleader for K yes, but she also drives some of the narrative displaying her own autonomy. She prompts him to do things, intervenes against others when he is not present and makes her own decisions. Yet all of this comes from coding responding to interactions with him. Does that mean it’s not real or is that any different from the way human are biologically designed? There is a scene later in the film that could provide the answer and it is heartbreaking, Ana De Armas plays so many notes effortlessly and this should prove a break-out role for her.
Harrison Ford plays Deckard very differently here as perhaps befitting the passage of the years and what has happened to the character. Some may not agree with all the choices but there is one scene in particular where Ford is called on to do heavy lifting emotionally and he proves up to the task. Yet it is the subtleties of Gosling’s performance which should impress the most, emotionally dialed down for great chunks he still expresses a lot through his eyes. This is a man trying to keep everything internalized for various reasons but things keep bubbling to the surface. Like Ford before him, he is the reason you become invested in the film not the big ideas or A-grade special effects.
The influence of the original Blade Runner’s production design and effects cannot be overstated. Critics of that film still cite the compelling visuals and the challenge was to create something new that felt like a natural progression of that world. Blade Runner 2049 expands the world taking us to surrounding cities outside of L.A., it still rains a lot in overcrowded cities but we’re taken out of the cities more often than not. The busy noisy streets at ground level of the little people now joined by deserted wastelands outside the city limits where the sky remains grey but there is no rain. Cars still fly, the palette is still dim and depressive but now snow falls and we see great big waves of the ocean crashing against giant man made walls built to keep them out. There will be plenty of images that will endure in the years to come from this film, not the least of which are ones involving a new type of threesome. Sound design also plays an important part, the score feels industrial and overwhelming ramping up tension and reflecting the internal dialogue of the film’s characters.
Director Denis Villeneuve coming off Sicario and Arrival is now one of the world’s most premier directors having tackled a big budget delayed sequel to a beloved classic and delivered more than just a good sequel but a great movie. It’s true the film does not have a character as charismatic and vital as Rutger Hauer’s Roy Batty from the original but in its place it has Ryan Gosling in a quieter but no less engaging performance searching for what is real. Blade Runner 2049 knows what is real and asks you to ponder what is real for you?
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Screenwriter: Hampton Fancher, Michael Green
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Jared Leto, Mackenzie Davis, Carla Juri and Dave Bautista.
Runtime: 163 mins
Genre: Science Fiction