Blade Runner 2049 🤔 Film Review


Written by Thelonia & Tia

The aesthetic impact of Blade Runner (1982) on science fiction cannot be overstated enough. Though it was met with mixed reviews, almost every major sci-fi film has tried to replicate Blade Runner aesthetically, with its mixture of neo-noir cityscapes that blend technology with automated and multicultural individuals.

The film did however become a quick cult classic, leading to years of rumors about possible sequels (to mixed derision and anticipation). And yet, more than three decades later, here it is: Blade Runner 2049 (2017), taking place, itself, three decades after its predecessor. Does it (and can it) live up to the hype of the original?

The answer is not so clear cut

In many ways this is an excellently crafted movie, with a fantastic soundscape, alluring visuals, and Mad Max: Fury Road-level coloration, and it is definitely leaps and bounds above what one could have expected from the sequel to a much beloved cult classic. However, what the movie delivers in execution, it lacks in spirit (and I'm not being robot-racist—the heartlessness with which this film is constructed is only in small part due to its blank-faced replicant protagonist, played by the ever-excellently coat-ed Ryan Gosling).

So, what's the sequel even about?

The movie picks up thirty years after the original, in the year 2049. A blade runner named K (a replicant who hunts down older 'dodgier' models of replicants, this universe's androids, and 'retires' them) uncovers a box of bones containing proof of a replicant who carried a child to term but died in childbirth. Soon, everyone is out to find this impossible child, to destroy or study them in order to either cover up the fact that replicants can apparently get pregnant, exploit it to help multiply this underclass and create a larger workforce, or inspire a revolution among replicants. K comes across several old faces from the original film and some new trying to track down the child - even as he is himself hunted.

The small stuff everyone's been sweating

The internet is full of hot takes on this film, and it's rough because almost all of them have good points to make. The film is indeed a bit of a slog—the scenes are lovely in their patience, but not all of them feel necessary—and at 163 minutes it does lead you to question if you've been in the theater for days, especially when completely new plot points are introduced remarkably late in the film.

Plus, the female characters are almost all built solely for male consumption (though this is a by-product of the crapsack world of Blade Runner, it is also something that may turn people off), leading to criticisms of the way in which the camera and the plot approaches them. And in addition, there is the obvious use of modern Asian culture (just look at the Korean and Japanese text throughout the film, as well as the extensive rows of street vending machines, for example)—without showing any actual Asian people. It can be argued that this is an aesthetic callback to the first film, but it also just feels kind of lazy.

Finally, there's the fact that it reduces the main female character in the original film (Rachael) to her (SPOILERS) reproductive ability, while also killing her off (in childbirth no less). Which feels pretty sucky if you really loved her character in the first film, and think she deserved more. Although this was done to capture the human vs. robot theme in a new light (if replicants can replicate, then maybe we replican't consider them soulless), while also calling back to characters from the original, it still feels pretty crappy to see where they decided to take Rachael's story, especially in a film whose primary female characters are essentially "Siri-who-loves-you" Joi (Ana de Armas), and "overly competitive death machine" Luv (Sylvia Hoeks).

Still, none of these choices "ruin" the film by any means. They're negatives with reasonable counterpoints, in a sea of positives. And although it is annoying that we're still stuck on some of the same talking points that have yet to change, there's no denying that the film does a ton right.

Does Deckard vacuum this place? How is it so clean? Does holographic Elvis help out?
Please email me some answers, Denis Villeneuve.

Calling back to the original, while remaining original

The aesthetic of the city may look similar (though much less disgusting and dark) to that of the original, but Blade Runner 2049 takes us to very different spaces as well, spending much more time in the light of day and in sprawling, desolate, flat landscapes—deserts, futuristic farms, and dusty orange expanses—rather than within the confines of the dark grimy streets of futuristic Los Angeles, which make up a good part of the original film. This may be part of what makes it feel so clean, so soulless, and yet so well-structured—all strong visual themes in a film about androids.

It functions well in expanding the original universe while appearing to make canonical sense. Plus, we get to learn a lot about where the replicant project has gone, and what it now means to be a blade runner. These are all interesting takes on how the original world of Blade Runner has evolved and expanded into its 2049 counterpart. While some of the scenes explaining how things have changed—and will continue changing—feel a bit clunky (thanks in part to Jared Leto's creepy, but ultimately dull, villainous hippie businessman character), the actual ideas behind the brave new Blade Runner world are interesting and well done. And they don't deny the story from the original in any way, building off of it skillfully.

Does it bother anyone else that K, despite being able to personalize Joi's appearance,
has gone with "default but with Cuban accent?" Use your imagination, my dude.
Character creation is the best part.

But how does Ryan Gosling do in place of Harrison Ford as the hero blade runner?

Ryan Gosling is an excellent actor—but there are undeniable drawbacks to having a robot (sorry—replicant) as your main character, and that becomes particularly apparent in this two-and-a-half hour film. One being that while Officer K (Ryan Gosling) has a beautiful face indeed, he does not emote much other than "neutral face" and "slightly clenched jaw."

Look at other films with major characters that are also androids—like the more recent Alien films (Prometheus and Covenant), which feature Michael Fassbender as a robot. Although his role is more secondary, which means we are never overloaded with looking at his neutral resting face, in the time he is on screen, he kind of gives off the vibe that he's about to murder everybody, and because of that and some also off the wall character decisions on the writer's part, he's the best part of those otherwise kind of bad and dumb movies. Your robot main character doesn't have to be neutral faced the entire time to show that he is in fact, a robot, and having K look so same-faced is also incongruous with the rest of the world where the replicants manage to have range and their own personalities, while still being synthetic beings.

Gosling's emoting here is best when it's concerning his longing (and subsequent disappointment) for something, but the script also asks that you feel for him when his holographic girlfriend (SPOILERS) has her hard drive broken, effectively killing her. But my reaction was less "sad" and more "duh." This romantic subplot was better handled in the major plot of Her, whereas here it is mostly used for one admittedly very cool, if a bit weird-looking, sex scene, and an attempt at injecting some heart into K's cold, manmade chest. But the robotic love interest doesn't make K feel all that more human.

Even though I know they're probably going to retcon her death in Wonder Woman

There's a reason Robin Wright's no-nonsense police chief (Lieutenant Joshi), who takes a particular liking to K, is one of the most interesting characters in this universe despite not appearing in very many scenes and not being involved in the main plotline (sigh!). Were she not (SPOILERS) shuffled off her mortal coil mid-film, she'd be the character I'd want to see come back in sequels. But alas, we can have nothing good in this world and I have been cursed to see Robin Wright die twice in movies this year, making me very sad.

What is Blade Runner 2049 really missing, which the original had?

Well, first of all, it didn't have Jared Leto in it. But also, the original film concentrated on a few key points, which the recent sequel did not prioritize. Blade Runner is science fiction exploring a major theme through aesthetic and heart. It is an idea on a page, with a world built around it. The idea is at the core. Blade Runner 2049 is a world, pre-built for one idea, trying to portray a slightly different idea.

It's a form of Ridley-Scott-approved fanfiction (yeah, I see your EP credit, but slight step back). It takes place in the same world, but it's not the same—Blade Runner wasn't built for a sequel, but in these sequel-driven times, 2049 was demanded (by studios more so than fans, most likely). And a sequel put in this position cannot possibly reach the same level as its original. It doesn't have a chance, when it was never meant to exist and had to squeeze its way in.

Surprise sequels to older classics, as well as remakes, which now populate the film and TV scene extensively, are bogged down by their need to pay homage to their original. They must be like the original to draw in those same fans, but they must also be their own thing, and that is a nearly impossible balance to strike perfectly when most of the originals were so beloved and so popular because they did their own thing 100%, and they nailed it. That was all they had to do, and that's what the writers and crew put 100% into. They didn't have to worry about connecting to previous narratives that hadn't made room for them. They just were themselves, fully and completely.

This is not Blade Runner (obviously).

That said, there are sequels that have done, in my opinion, just as well as the originals. There are many reasons why but it seems to me that the main one is sticking to the core of what made the original what it was. Take Twin Peaks for example. The revival was different, updated, added new things, but still clung to the core essence of Twin Peaks weirdness, while being willing to be its own, separate thing. For some, the Twin Peaks revival was frustratingly different from the original, but that is also the only way it could have been. If had been too similar to the original, too dedicated to honoring it, it would have lost the fire at the heart of the narrative.

Blade Runner 2049 tried very hard to engage and hold onto that heart, and I'd say it almost did. I think it wanted to be a much different film—one that paid less homage to the original—but because it was picked up as a sequel, it had to try to be the things that the original was as well, and the resulting blend ended up being just a little bit off... but still very good.

And does this film indicate there might be more Blade Runner to come?

I'm sorry if you're the kind of person who is dismayed that this movie was made at all (although we've all known it was years coming), but if you are, you might be horrified to learn that this one leaves a lot of plates spinning, and it feels like there could be more coming in the future (although, one assumes, without Gosling to hold the audience's hand). Be prepared my friends, another sequel may be on its way (in another 35 years, at the very least)—as long as Harrison Ford stops trying to fly his own planes.

While Blade Runner is a neo-noir with a science-fiction plot, Blade Runner 2049 is an action film with a foot both in science fiction and mystery, connected only by characters and ideas. Perhaps this is another reason why, while it is a capable and solid follow-up, Blade Runner 2049 has less heart than its original: It is more concerned with a chase than with a mood.

Go see it if you want to know what happened to Deckard and Rachael after the first film, but maybe skip it if you know it's just going to make you angry. Still, it's a competently made science fiction film that can stand on its own two feet. Just don't expect it to pack the same punch as the original (but then again, what could?)!

And of course, there is still the unanswered question: WHAT HAPPENED TO THE DOG? Once again, Denis Villeneuve, please email me. I want to know.

Blade Runner 2049 opened in theaters in the U.S. on October 6th, 2017.


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