I’m not being hyperbolic when I say that Blade Runner 2049 (BR:2049) is one of my all time favourite sci-fi movies. It’s a shining example of how filmmakers should approach sequels and a greatly impressive feat of filmmaking prowess.
First, some background information about my relationship with the original. I appreciate the original movie more than I enjoy it. That’s not to say that I don’t still really like it but it’s never resonated with me to the degree that it does with other fans of the genre. On paper I should like it more than I do. The visuals, score, story and philosophical themes all really appeal to me but I have never connected emotionally to the movie. I feel the relationship between Deckard and Rachel felt forced and was only there to tie in with the central theme of the movie rather than it feeling natural. The film is at it’s best whenever Roy Batty is on screen, as he is by far the most interesting character. My two biggest gripes are not issues that BR:2049 shares with its predecessor.
The central plot of this movie revolves around the birth of the first replicant baby, with K, played by Ryan Gosling, tasked with tracking the child down. Ryan Gosling delivers a wonderfully nuanced performance, managing to convey so much with just the slightest glance. His ability to play the strong, silent character is used to maximum effect here. This is a character who longs for human connection and spends the film trying to discover and prove his humanity. That’s where Joi comes in, played by Ana de Armas. Joi is a female companion in holographic form. We are introduced to her “preparing” K’s dinner, showing us his desire to feel loved and his longing for a “normal” existence. The films poses an interesting question about how sentient Joi really is. Does she have her own wants and desires? Or is it all pre-programmed? An early scene where K takes her out to the rain would indicate that she is more than just a program is also a lovely call back to the original without it feeling hamfisted. However, during a stunning scene later in the film, K sees her holographic advertisement where she refers to him as Joe, indicates that she was just programmed to feed in to K’s wants and desires. The film doesn’t offer up a clear answer about how sentient she is. For me, I felt that she wasn’t just a program. While she may have been programmed to act a certain way towards K, wouldn’t that feel real to her still? To me, she experiences genuine feelings but doesn’t have free will in the way that the other replicants demonstrate. The fact she wanted to go out to feel the rain and that she contacted the prostitute off her own volition due to her desire to want to be with K, indicated that she is more than just her programming. A sex scene later in the film demonstrate Dennis Villeneuve’s mastery of visual storytelling, crafting a unique and beautiful sequence that leaves a strong impression upon the viewer.
The film tackles the theme about what makes you human in a way that really resonated with me. For me, the film demonstrates the idea that if a being has their own dreams, desires and free will then regardless of their form , then they have a soul and as such display their humanity. This is something K strives to find throughout the film and ends up proving through his act of reuniting Deckard with his estranged daughter. In doing this he proves his humanity through disobeying his orders and dying for a cause greater than himself, as stated by the replicant rebel leader. Traits that are distinctly human. In the final scene of the movie, the song Tears in the Rain plays while he lies down in the snow. A beautiful evocation of the finale in the original.
The cinematography in this movie is truly astonishing. Roger Deakins outdid himself here lovingly displaying the incredible world up on the screen in dream like fashion. After 14 Oscar nominations, he finally won. And a well deserved win at that. He has a career where he was created some of the most striking images ever put to screen and yet, this is one of his finest pieces of work. What I like so much about Deakins is that he moulds his style so effortlessly to suit the director he’s working with but you can still always feel his DNA all over the images he creates. The set and location design is expertly handled too. At once this world is both reminiscent of the original while exploring new locales. This allows the creative team to expand upon the world Ridley Scott created in interesting ways, making the universe feel believable and while insinuating that there is still plenty left to explore. Through the use of miniatures and clever camera techniques along with CGI when necessary the world feels tangible and lived in. The visuals and sets are varied utilising different designs and colour palettes, always giving you something to soak in. Working so closely with the set designers really worked wonders here as it allows everything to come together seamlessly. The way he lights Wallace’s office with water rippling across the walls is a stroke of genius, and is one of my favourite set designs in recent memory.
Another aspect that I feel is worth bringing attention to is the pacing and editing. This is a very long and slowly paced movie that never feels it’s length. Every scene has its place within the narrative. There’s so much to take in at any one moment that the movie remains gripping throughout it’s considerable run time. This is one such area that BR:2049 surpasses the original. The original is a very slow film that runs under two hours, but feels longer. There are scenes that ran on longer than they needed to and I found my attention waning in a few instances. There’s a brilliant example of editing that occurs when the camera pans up, tracking embers from a fire that blend into the cityscape seamlessly. All these techniques allow this to be an enthralling movie that never loses your attention.
Hans Zimmer has really been on his A game this year, crafting two of the years best and most unique scores. Here he creates such an uneasy, haunting and disconcerting soundscape that perfectly matches the visuals on screen. Yet, when the scene calls for it the score is beautiful, with serene tracks such as “Joi” and “Rain” being two of my favourite compositions of the year.
Dennis Villeneuve already cemented his place as one of my favourite directors working today. He has deftly jumped between genres and never delivered a final product anything less than great. Hollywood needs more auteurs like him. It is incredibly sad that this film underperformed at the box office because studios will be less likely to fork out the considerable money required to bring visions like this to the screen. There are sure to be many reasons this movie didn’t delivery the box office receipts many were expecting, the slow pace and complex narrative likely not helping. But it is a minor miracle that the creative team behind this were awarded the money needed and were able to craft the film as they saw fit. It is truly a masterpiece and one that will be remembered and appreciated for years to come.