Blade Runner 2049
Denis Villeneuve brings audiences back to the rain soaked Detective Noir future of Blade Runner in his long delay4d follow up Blade Runner 2049.
The first question many will ask is: “Does Blade Runner need a sequel?“. The answer to that is complicated but based on the fact that the first film is a complete story with a deliberately ambiguous ending the obvious answer would be “no”. Not leaving the door open for a sequel isn’t necessarily a reason not to make one but sequels made decades after the original attempting to capitalise on audience nostalgia don’t always turn out. For a recent example of this see Independence Day: Resurgence. There are some that do work such as Rambo, Rocky Balboa and Creed -which technically counts- but largely long delayed sequels don’t tend to feel worthwhile.
Blade Runner 2049 definitely enters the camp of those that work but it does so almost in spite of the original. It uses elements of the first film to create the framework of its narrative but doesn’t rely on knowledge of the original to follow the plot. It’s expertly crafted and very clever in the way it can appeal to fans of the original and moviegoers who haven’t seen it. It’s a thin line to walk that the film walks very well.
On the surface the plot is a fairly standard detective story with a science fiction backdrop which also describes the original film. The detective story acts as scaffolding that connects all of the other elements which makes the predictability of this through line narrative more forgivable than it otherwise would be. From a structural point of view the story essentially reaches checkpoints before pausing to delve into philosophical questions where characters ponder the nature of their own existence. It works because these vignettes are so narratively rich that they can’t help but be captivating. This episodic structure prevents the long running time from feeling excessive and keeps the story moving along at a decent pace. That’s not to say the film couldn’t have done without some trimming here or there but at least it doesn’t feel overly bloated which is a win considering how long the film actually is.
Some of these threads explore the underlying question of whether the artificial beings known as Replicants count as living beings or not and others explore other fascinating ideas through the lens of science fiction. More of Philip K. Dick’s ideas than are contained in the source novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” creep in throughout and it all amounts to some deeply thought provoking content. On one hand much of this could be seen as superficial but on the other the gauntlet is laid down to the audience to consider these ideas in their own minds. Either way it’s interesting and presented well.
On a character level the film is somewhat hit and miss. Ryan Gosling’s K is interesting on paper but something about Gosling’s performance didn’t quite resonate with me. Many of his scenes paint him as emotionally distant and introspective which contrasts with the vulnerability he shows elsewhere. The best material for Gosling is when K interacts with his virtual girlfriend Joi (Ana de Armas). The connection he has with Joi basically mirrors the movie Her but suggests something more disturbing as the virtual girlfriend encourages a break from reality completely which disadvantages K throughout the narrative. It’s a fascinating exploration of what might happen if that technology existed and the nature of K’s existence adds to this.
Harrison Ford reprises his role as RIck Deckard from the original film. His role is much more subdued than the marketing would have you believe but his presence is tied to the overall plot of the film. Ford does a really good job here in a rare display of enthusiasm for a role. He basically fulfils the requirement on commenting on the past of this world and does so wonderfully. It was a smart choice to limit his screen time as the whole point of the story is that the world is moving on and he represents a relic of days gone by.
Outside of the three I’ve mentioned above, Robin Wright’s does a great job with exposition machine Lieutenant Joshi and injects plenty of personality into a thinly written role. Jared Leto as Replicant Niander Wallace also manages to be memorable despite fairly limited screen time. They aren’t classic characters by any means but within the tapestry of the movie they manage to be more than their basic function would allow them to be.
On a visual level the film is simply stunning. The design aesthetic of the original film is iconic for a variety of reasons and this film excels at replicating that while projecting how the technology might evolve 30 years after the fact. The cityscapes are incredible to behold with offensive product placement and overt advertising everywhere to suggest an unpleasant world where all senses are assaulted at every given moment. The production design creates scope while also feeling claustrophobic and many of the shots are so beautiful that they would make great posters in their own right. This is definitely the most visually unique and stylistically impressive film that will be seen all year.
The film is far from perfect as I’ve mentioned above with the treatment of K as a character but there is another systemic issue when it comes to the treatment of women within the confines of the story. Put simply women are largely seen as sex objects which is nothing new for blockbuster film making but this feels like a more overt example than most. Many of the in movie adverts readily objectify women in ways that just come across as awkward more than anything else. This was also true of the original though this is something that could definitely have been improved for the sequel. A dystopic future where sex workers are commonplace is all well and good but it would have been just as easy to show that this objectification applies to men as well as women. Maybe this is a personal thing that I’m reading too much into but it’s something I couldn’t help but notice throughout.
A worthy sequel to the original Blade Runner that doesn’t feel like a pointless retread of of something that was once popular. The world is expertly crafted and skilfully moved on from the original despite some really overt sexism and the by the numbers detective story acts as a competent through line for some bigger ideas. The treatment of Ryan Gosling’s K as a character is mixed but there are some interesting scenes involving this character. Harrison Ford exhibits some enthusiasm in his performance reprising the role of Rick Deckard and the story thankfully makes economic use of him. Visually the film is stunning with excellent production design and beautiful cinematography. While not perfect this is definitely one of the best films of the year and one of the best long delayed sequels of all time.
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