MOVIES & TV
Review: Blade Runner 2049
Plot: In the year 2049, Officer K, a Blade Runner assigned to terminate Replicants, is dispatched on a secret mission, unaware that his actions may start or prevent a war.
Review: Blade Runner 2049 majestically and methodically transports us back into the grim, somber dystopian Los Angeles of the future. Director Denis Villeneuve‘s take on this world, first introduced to audiences by Ridley Scott in 1982, is highly effective, thoroughly interesting, confident in its purpose, precise in its details, visually remarkable, and just like it’s predecessor, hollow and cold in every which way.
It succeeds on so many levels, and if it had one, just one, breathtaking action sequence to let the environment come alive, it would be considered a masterpiece.
We see the world through the lens of Ryan Gosling‘s “Officer K,” a cold blooded dedicated Replicant-hunting Blade Runner, who questions his purpose and his consciousness as the film progresses. Gosling’s performance is calculating and razor sharp. His take is not entirely unlike Harrison Ford‘s “Rick Deckard” from the original. The difference, though, is that Deckard was a Blade Runner who believed he was human, who may have been human, or who very well may have been a Replicant himself. Deckard is a character who perhaps was in denial about his origins but it was his belief in his humanity that seemed to drive him.
30 years later, however, birth-born humans on Earth are non-existant, and Replicants are self-aware of their artificiality. Gosling’s Officer K differs, then, from Deckard, because he knows what he is, doesn’t fight it, and everyone else around him has a similar story. His character is self-aware, has consciousness, but is unemotional and accepting of his purpose.
Blade Runner 2049 uses Officer K’s journey as a thematic exploration of our own humanity. This layer, this depth, propels the film beyond a mere superficial action blockbuster.
The film very clearly isn’t an “action movie,” nor was the original. Today’s 18-35 year old demographic, indoctrinated into a fast-paced cinematic world of quick cuts, edits and scenes that move with a breakneck pace, may be put off by the slow, dream-like pace. Cinema aficionados and fans of the original will relish this experience.
What may ultimately be unappreciated risk-taking in the film doesn’t come from death-defying stunts, but rather, from it’s ability to slow things down, take it’s time, let things breathe, and in doing so, fully transport us and immerse us in this world, as only the best of cinematic experiences can offer.
Which isn’t to suggest the film is entirely without action. Officer K gets into his share of brawls and Ford’s Deckard gets the opportunity once again to throw a good handful of punches and get himself beat up in the process.
Ford’s role isn’t huge but it’s surprisingly impactful and wholly integral to the plot of the entire film.
Ford himself is up for the challenge. This is the best shape he’s been in in years, even by Indiana Jones standards. His veins are literally pulsating out of his arms. If there’s any question as to if he has another Indiana Jones movie in him, this film should put those doubters to rest.
The original film left us questioning whether or not Deckard himself was a Replicant, a debate widely publicized between Ford and Ridley Scott. Scott contends Deckard is absolutely a Replicant while Ford always saw him as human. This push-pull, this tug of war, and this ambiguity between humanity and artificiality dominates the narrative in Blade Runner 2049 and is a chilling food for thought for us as our own lives continue to merge with artificial intelligence and technology.
The central antagonist in the film is Jared Leto‘s “Niander Wallace,” obsessed with Replicant creation, with the creation of life. His company purchased Tyrell Corporation and he is on the path to complete Replicant domination – the only thing standing in his way is a key ingredient that has him crossing paths with Deckard. Leto’s take is methodical and chilling. We could spend hours watching a film about his character.
Along the way, Officer K has some other noteworthy interactions, particularly his romantic relationship with a hologram named “Joi.” Joi doesn’t exist in the real world, and yet her ability to analyze, to feel, to emote, and to simply “be” makes her every bit as real to Officer K as someone standing in front of him in flesh and blood.
Blade Runner 2049 is visually stunning. The brilliance of Director of Photography, Roger Deakins, is on full display. His style pays homage to the original film and the late great cinematographer, Jordan Cronenweth. At the same time, he furthers the world by introducing his own palette and style – rich with color and texture.
Los Angeles still feels every bit as claustraphobic and confining, with every shot drowning in thick atmosphere, whether it’s fog or rain or snow or even light and color.
For all the attention to detail and the film’s ability to transport us back into this bleak world, it suffers from the lack of just one great action set piece, which would have served multiple purposes:
1) Allowing greater interactivity with the background environment. This was a signature feature of the original film – whether it was Deckard meandering through a pavilion of artifical zoo animals or having cocktails in a bar packed with patrons, or chasing after a Replicant through the city – jumping on top of cars and shoving people out of the way in pursuit. The city itself was a major character in the original and came alive through Deckard’s interaction with it. It’s a key reason for the cult following of the film. In 2049, the city remains further in the background, along with the bulk of its inhabitants, too much so. It therefore doesn’t come alive nearly as effectively as in the original.
2) Infusing the film with a much needed energy and pace to break up the monotony. As mentioned, the original shouldn’t be considered an “action” film, and 2049 is no different. But having Deckard running through the streets, and engaged in intense life and death fights with Replicants jolts us awake during pivotal moments in what is otherwise an intentionally dream-like film.
It’s the intensity of these moments that takes the place of “action” to provide that needed energy as we proceed through the film.
Officer K is more cold blooded “terminator” than Deckard is – so when he gets punched in the face or gets shot in the side, he doesn’t expxress pain the same way. It makes the fight sequences with Officer K more redundant and too similar. 2049 gives us a handful of fisticuff fights and no real chase sequence or anything to show off some form of action on a grander scale. There isn’t anything nearly as dramatic or exciting as Deckard dangling from a rooftop about to plummet to his demise.
3) Officer K is a Replicant-hunting Blade Runner. So what happened to all the Blade Running? One of Harrison Ford’s concerns with the original film when he first read the script was the lack of detective work for a detective who is supposed to hunt down and terminate Replicants. 2049 feels like the opposite – they gave Officer K too much detective work and not enoigh Replicant-hunting. He spends way too much time meandering slowly through an abandoned Las Vegas, a desolate junkyard in San Diego, or empty factories distracted by his own quest for truth, and far less time doing what we really want to see him doing – Replicant hunting.
Don’t get me wrong – what makes both of these films fascinating is that the mindless killing serves as a mere backgdrop for larger themes and stories at play. But at the end of the day, these are stories about Blade Runners, and Blade Running is what they should be spending the bulk of their time doing.
In the original, Deckard moves up the food chain of Replicant bad guys, pausing in between each slaughter to explore those themes I keep talking about. The killing sequences are unique, creatively staged, and serve as a vital connective tissue for the film, leading us to an intense climactic showdown with the leader of the band of Replicants.
In 2049, we get small doses of Officer K’s talents, no major nemesis, no real climax, and no real payoff.
Just one chase sequence could have accomplished all of this.
Still, Blade Runner 2049 succeeds on so many levels and is a remarkable cinematic achievement. It’s a film that needs to be explored more than once. There are layers needing to be peeled back. There are details hidden in the shadows waiting for us to discover. There is still a lot more to this film than meets the eye. It’s more alive than we perceive.
It’s a film that asks us to think a little harder, pay attention a little closer, and work a little more for the payoffs to create a signature cinematic experience. This makes the movie a rare stand-alone accomplishment and completely worthwhile to watch.
by Jeremy Howard – “JERHOW”
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