Movie Review: Blade Runner 2049
Director: Denis Villeneuve
by Jason Koenigsberg
Ridley Scott’s original classic Blade Runner (1982) is one of the most important and influential science fiction films of its era, now gets a sequel thirty-five years later. The original left so many questions unanswered creating a mythology of its own with the world it created. Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 thankfully does not resolve those open ended moments with any clear answers but keeps elements of the universe the original created intact by exploring different places the original film hinted at but never left its overcrowded and polluted Los Angeles of 2019.
The new film takes place thirty years after the events from the original. It opens up with a distinctive thud over the WB logo, one that will be very recognizable to fans of the first film. All of the music and sound effects are reminiscent of the originals sounds and synth heavy Vangelis score. After some text catches the audience up to speed with what a Replicant is (a synthetic human) and what has happened since the last film, the opening shot is an extreme close up of an eye followed by impressive shots of a future cityscape. There are many homages during Blade Runner 2049 meant to recall moments from the original and these first two shots are very similar to the opening shots of the 1982 film. Throughout the film there is a strong emphasis on eyes and eyes also served as vital symbolism in the original.
Blade Runner 2049 also continues with the theme of making futuristic cities as dark and depressing as possible. The overhead shots of future LA are cloudy, never sunny and clear, with polluted skies. It is constantly raining on snowing but the precipitation looks more like acid rain or polluted debris falling from the sky. The city streets are overcrowded and the dense population trounces about on litter filled streets. The holographic billboards are even more massive, three dimensional and in your face delivering prurient personalized advertisements this time around. Also, much like the original, Blade Runner 2049 has a strong Asian cultural influence on the grimy future LA. Even the action and violence was reminiscent of the first movie. Early on we see a fight between Ryan Gosling and Dave Bautista’s characters and one slams the other through a wall, very similar to the fight choreography between Harrison Ford and Rutger Hauer in the original.
The plot involves Ryan Gosling as K, a replicant sent to hunt and retire (meaning kill), other outdated replicants that have gone rogue. Those type of android police are known as “Blade Runners”, which was Harrison Ford’s job in the first film. Gosling discovers something on an assignment and uncovers some replicant remains that lead him too search for Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) who can possibly help him solve a mystery. Ford and Gosling are the highlights, but Robin Wright is especially good in her role as Gosling’s boss and it was great to see some of the original cast reprise their roles even if it was only for a cameo. Jared Leto is once again rather disappointing as he was in Suicide Squad (2016), but just like that film, Leto’s character could have been interesting but he was hardly in the film and most likely a lot of his scenes ended up on the cutting room floor.
The greatest strength of Blade Runner 2049 is its political commentary and existential questions it asks. The movies philosophy much like the first film, make the narrative secondary, or at times feel like an afterthought. This movie touches on ethical use of drones as well as raising important questions about cloning since these “replicants” are eerily similar to human clones. The replicants in this film are also second class citizens and are a metaphor for slavery. In the future these beings are the lowest class on the social hierarchy and are treated as such. It’s greatest philosophical ideas that it presented involve what makes us human. Are you only truly human if you are born from a mother’s womb and not if you are created in a test tube? What makes a human being different from how it enters into this world that defines who or what it is? Can we help what we are whether we are birthed naturally or spawned from scientific advances? Without revealing too much more of the plot, those questions are essential to understanding the heart of Blade Runner 2049.
Unfortunately this movie is very slow, especially early on. Even when the plot unfolds and we are following our hero on his quest for the truth Blade Runner 2049 is way too long. At two hours and forty five minutes a good portion could have been cut so make it flow smoother. Despite the editor not doing his job adequately, nobody can possibly complain about Roger Deakins’ brilliant cinematography which almost makes up for the slow pacing. Blade Runner 2049 long run time has a silver lining. It is a pleasure spending time in the world the director and DP have created, even though some scenes drag on for too long. The shame of it is that after 35 years Blade Runner 2049 feels so unnecessary.
It was nice spending time in this world again, it raises some important questions and deep intellectual provocations that mirror our current world. Most important is that it thankfully does not ruin any of the mystique and aura of the first film. As much as sci-fi-fi fans will enjoy Blade Runner 2049, if it were never made it probably would not be missed. Once again the marketing trend of remakes and sequels adds Blade Runner as another statistic in the lack of original ideas plaguing the movie industry.
See Blade Runner 2049 but first make sure you watch or re-watch Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. A bonafide science fiction masterpiece especially The Directors Cut or Final Cut versions of the film.