‘BLADE RUNNER 2049’ (2017) Movie Review: Elevating The Sci Fi Genre With Philosophical Ideaologies
‘Blade Runner 2049’ is a masterpiece of cinematic storytelling. 35 years after the original ‘Blade Runner’, this sequel manages to elevate the subject matter, and continue exploring the same themes with a new mindset and the updated emotional complexities of a new generation.
Set in the year 2049, the movie sees the continuation of the original ‘Blade Runner’, about a future where robots known as Replicants, indistinguishable from humans, were created as slave labour for the world’s industrial advancements. After rebelling and killing humans, they were deemed illegal and hunted by a type of Police Officer, known as a Blade Runner. (original movie)
‘Blade Runner’ is revered as one of the best Sci-Fi films ever created. It’s depiction of themes that raise questions about the meaning of humanity, cause it to be considered a high concept sci-fi film.
Personally, I can appreciate what Director Ridley Scott did with the film, (or at least the Final Cut version of it) and truly admire the nuanced depictions and performances in the movie. My complaints with the original movie, however, stemmed from less the subject matter, but the execution of the story itself. The original has always felt to be a little self indulgent, taking too much time to revel in its own setting, and allowing characters to hijack scenes that may not be entirely within the context of the story. Ultimately, the genius behind the ambiguous ending and culmination of the story pushed those complaints into the background.
35 years later, the sequel establishes a similar premise as the first film, but with a completely new world order. ‘Blade Runner 2049’ also sought to improve upon, elevate and further enhance the themes introduced by it’s predecessor, and in my opinion, has more than succeeded in doing so.
Officer K (Ryan Gosling) is the Blade Runner in question, the ultimate protagonist of the story. K is an exemplary officer, doing his job without question or hesitation, until he stumbles upon something that threatens to upend this new world order, and completely change the status quo between humans and Replicants. In order to find the right answers, K seeks out former Blade Runner Rick Deckard, (Harrison Ford) who has been missing for 30 years, and who may be the one man (?) that can fill in the pieces of the puzzle that K is missing.
For audiences unaware of the world of ‘Blade Runner’, the story essentially deals with themes involving the nature of humanity, by using non-human entities in the pursuit of what humans take for granted, while they are hunted for their desire to do so. As evident when ‘Blade Runner 2049’ opens with K tracking down an older model Replicant, who was just trying to live out the rest of his days as a peaceful farmer, of which K could care less.
‘2049’ further explores these themes through characters who try to live like humans, mimicking similar conditions, and even relationships as that of humans, to feel closer to the experience. Artificial memories provide a synthetic past, which is meant to shape their personality, as it does for humans. However, their knowledge of them being fake, but feeling real, is something that needs to be reconciled through their journeys.
The movie digs further into the question of ‘what does it mean to be human?’ Is it our emotions, memories, our past or how we feel towards the people in our lives? Is it purpose or to have a meaning in life that drives humanity? Or is it as simple (or complex) as having a soul?
Director Denis Villeneuve depicts these questions and emotional nuances in subtle and brilliant manners. He is able to exact career-best performances from almost all of his actors, in a story that may seem incomprehensible to try to ‘act out’ through emotions and expressions alone. Ford is strong and powerful in his deliveries, and is an anchor to the original movie, for both new and returning audiences. As proven by his past films like ‘Drive’, Gosling is adept at expressing a wide range of emotions without any explicit dialogue or ‘acting’, and he does that in spades. Jared Leto is as menacing as ever, being one of the fewer characters that articulate the abstract representation and allegory of the story.
A surprising delight of ‘2049’ are two breakout performances that sneak up on you. Ana de Armas provides even more of a deep dive into the essense of humanity and love. Sylvia Hoeks also brings her A-game in a role best described as the traditional antagonist. While Hoeks plays the physical threat throughout the film, there is such nuance to her character as well, that enhances her character, the story and the way that Replicants are perceived in this world.
While on the surface ‘2049’, can look like a Sci-Fi Action Adventure to the uninitiated, the movie is more heart and beauty than fights and lasers. Villeneuve is able to stretch out the story over almost 3 hours, but despite it, the pacing is never dragging or slow. Every scene feels meticulously framed, and every image on screen serves a purpose. This attention to detail, coupled with the immersive soundtrack by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch, truly engages the audience in this story, despite long scenes depicting contemplative thought and reflective pauses.
Screenwriters Hampton Fancher and Michael Green make excellent use of the original story, to create a sequel that can truly stand alone. Knowledge and experience of the original movie will of course exponentially increase the impact and deeper understand of ‘Blade Runner 2049’, however, it’s not entirely prerequisite. ‘2049’ is able to somewhat retell the story of the original ‘Blade Runner’, just enough for the events of the sequel to be coherent to newer audiences. The effect of this, is that the events of the original film feel like lore, historical events referred to in ‘2049’, that gives a sort of legacy to the events we’re seeing unfold.
Villeneuve recreates the world we saw back in 1982, with very minimal changes, despite the advancement of CGI technology since the original film. While other sequels to classic films have an obvious disconnect in the visuals, the later movies looking much better than the originals, Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins intentionally make the world feel almost seamless to the original film providing more a more fluid and convincing visual connection between them.
The most incredible aspect of the visuals of ‘2049’, is how spectacularly stunning they are. The images on screen leave you stunned and in awe of its massive scale. While never feeling self indulgent, or done for the sake of doing. It’s the perfect compliment to the emotions, performances and storytelling, all excelling in their respective arenas.
Villeneuve definitely (in my opinion) improves upon the original, in terms of telling a well paced story, from beginning to end, that doesn’t get distracted with the philosophical ideas it’s discussing. But instead, employs them effectively to keep the story moving forward, free of tangents that take away from the sequence of events. Officer K moves relentlessly to complete his mission, which provides the through line for the story to take place and everything else happening around it.
If you’ve seen the original and liked it, then ‘Blade Runner 2049’ is definitely something you need to experience for yourself. If you haven’t seen the original, but enjoy well crafted stories that examine metaphysical ideaologies of the individual and collective self, analyze the general concepts of humanity and do it all against a backdrop of high concept Science Fiction, coupled with unbelievable performances… watch ‘Blade Runner 2049’!
‘Blade Runner 2049’ was chosen by Patrons of my Patreon page to be reviewed as the movie of the month in October in a poll.
To support more of my Movie Reviews, please visit my Patreon and participate in telling me which Movies you want me to Review!