Walking into Blade Runner 2049, I was nervous. I’d gorged on the three pre-release shorts. Completed another rewatch of Ridley Scott’s infamous final cut. I knew it was flopping at the box office but that critics were intrigued. Was this going to be another popcorn movie resurrected for the nostalgia or a movie made by a true filmmaker to inspire the masses?
The original Blade Runner aspired and inspired to be something more, and it certainly still holds that cultural weight. Ask any sci-fi dork, they’ll know Roy Batty’s final monologue at least in part, and the numerous dystopian landscapes will be burned into any fans memory, the kind of vision no baseline test could easily remove.
Was this going to be another popcorn movie resurrected for the nostalgia or a movie made by a true filmmaker to inspire the masses?
Despite the tiny scepticism I had (After watching Villeneuve’s Enemy & Arrival I knew it was in safe hands) I still wasn’t prepared for what I found.
What I was met with was a true cinematic experience beyond the range of any science fiction I’d seen in the last decade. Hell, I’d go as far to say my life. This movie is a piece of art that is so visually stunning it will move you without intention. Several scenes I was stunned, jaw open just gawping at the acumen of the visual effects.
With the 2 hrs and 43-minute runtime, as I ruminate over the minutiae of some of the key scenes, I realize that my brain couldn’t capture all of it, as I stumble over memories of certain moments that struck me.
The score moves all over the place, from tense and blood-pumping to quaint and beautiful according to the scene. As much as the trailer would lead you to believe, this is not really an action movie. Beyond a few scenes of combat, the rest of the movie is a play-by-play of intriguing sci-fi themes, introducing characters that probe the mind and situations that tinker with your perceptions of the near future.
I realize that my brain couldn’t capture all of its grandeur, as I stumble over memories of moments that struck me.
In regards to the acting, it would be hard to pick a poor performance here. Everyone seems to serve their purpose, even if certain players don’t get much screen time their presence is certainly felt. Jared Leto’s Wallace appears for at most 20 minutes in Blade Runner 2049, but his introductory scene is so calculous and cruel that you understand his intentions and ambitions immediately.
Gosling is wonderfully emotionless as detective K, juxtaposed as the movie gathers traction and his hard exterior starts to yield as he discovers shocking truths about his kind. Ford plays Deckard with a human element previously unseen in the first movie that all but improves his character. This is no Han Solo. Ford doesn’t just return to this film for the money or the recognizable face. No, his performance adds a new depth to the character, something I found to be missing in the original.
Ana de Armas is ultimately dreamlike, a believable A.I construct that channels the finest moments of Spike Jonze’s ‘Her’ to expose the empathy dormant within K’s replicant shell. Even Wallace’s lapdog Luv works well as a cold, purely evil henchman, having her nails inscribed as she drone strikes innocent civilians.
The use of the human body in this movie is also something to behold. Wallace’s introductory sequence where a defective replicant is born, convulsing in the embryonic liquid of artificial life is jarring and is one of those movie moments where you’re confronted with the inexplicable miracle of life. Questions beyond the screen fill your mind during this beautiful commentary on mortality, something that is all too common across Blade Runner 2049’s gargantuan runtime.
Ana de Armas is ultimately dreamlike, a believable A.I construct that channels the finest moments of Spike Jonze’s ‘Her’ to expose the empathy dormant within K’s replicant shell
The pacing, again, a difficult task concerning the size of this piece of art, is wonderful. Moving from scene to scene with grace, building relationships and ideas from the ground up to their ultimate swan song. Praise must be given to the script, which attempts to emulate and grow from its predecessor and succeeds. “Sometimes to love someone, you have to be a stranger”
I could go through each of Blade Runner 2049’s scenes and explain how they feel like a dream-like scrapbook of a magical movie genius, but I’ll choose to focus on a few of the key moments that feel distant from eachother in their environment and scope. A memory maker constructing the past of others like a mixed reality painting made my mind ache with possibility, yet there are also scenes like the final battle just outside the dark, dystopian walls of 2049 Los Angeles, where the encroaching, inevitable power of nature defies and corrupts the technology the movie makes you comfortable with.
It’s a stark point about how we can build ourselves into a technological grave if we’re not careful, but there are always things we can’t change. The tide will always flow and conflict will always persist. It sounds stark and depressing, but the moral culmination of Blade Runner 2049 is positive.
The message is that in spite of your own nature, you should do good. There are many reasons for Ryan Gosling’s character to become a cold, emotionless killer, pushed into a corner into society until he snaps, but what the movie attempts to impart on the viewer is the notion that empathy (human or not) is the most powerful currency in the world, and the only way we can save ourselves is by holding on to that. The way Villeneuve situates the human element within Phillip K. Dick’s strictly non-human characters is powerful and moving.
A memory maker constructing the past of others like a mixed reality painting made my mind ache with possibility, yet there are also scenes like the final battle just outside the dark, dystopian walls of 2049 Los Angeles, where the encroaching, inevitable power of nature defies and corrupts the technology the movie makes you comfortable with.
The bait and switch shift of Gosling’s character from messianic protagonist to external actor and medium through which a revolution hurtles towards its finale is the perfect way to resolve his arc, and I struggle to understand why other sci-fi flicks don’t choose this path. One dimensional action heroes are all too common and this turn is off-centre in the best way.
At its core, this is a Sci-fi epic comparable to the classics that defined the genre in the 20th century. No question. The boggling visuals of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis come to mind, with the world building of the first Star Wars and the noir, dark before-their-time themes of the original Scott movie.
Villeneuve safely does this title justice. This is not a popcorn movie, this is a work of art to be studied in all of its grand scale. From the preserved old-but-new technology to the uncanny valley window glare on Joi’s data construct. A dangerous, mind-probing masterpiece with lingering, sleep depriving questions. Go see Blade Runner 2049 and gorge yourself on the overwhelming detail as it digs its hooks into you and never lets you go.