Believe it or not, I was one of the few film buffs who wasn’t looking forward to “Blade Runner 2049” for a long time. I am not a huge fan of the original “Blade Runner,” especially since it took me three attempts to watch it all the way through without falling asleep. I attribute this to pacing problems with the original film and emphasis on style over substance. While the style of “Blade Runner” is unmistakable in its gritty film noir-esque depiction of the future, I never felt it was enough to carry the movie.
It wasn’t until they annouced that Denis Villeneuve was directing and Roger Deakins would do the cinematography that I started getting excited. Villeneuve had already proven himself in the science fiction genre with last year’s “Arrival,” while cinematographer Roger Deakins has shown that he is the most imaginative and creative eye for captivating images in all of Hollywood with films like “Skyfall,” “Prisoners,” “Sicario” and “No Country for Old Men.” Deakins is almost single-handedly responsible for just about every visually stunning movie out of Hollywood in the last ten years.
In this aspect, Villeneuve and Deakins do not disappoint with “Blade Runner 2049.” I went into the movie with slight skepticism and left the theater loving nearly every scene in that movie. It takes the concepts and visuals that “Blade Runner” started and gives it a 21st-century face lift, putting the visuals on an even bigger scale and telling a story that is dripping with style and substance.
Set thirty years after the original “Blade Runner,” we see that the bioengineered human race known as replicants have been remodeled to be subserviant and loyal to humans, while the remaining resistant replicants are still slowly hunted down and terminated by a special branch of the police force, known as the blade runners. One of these runners is K (Ryan Gosling), an obedient newer model replicant. During his hunt to locate the growing replicant resistance movement, he finds a buried box next to a dead tree, something people in this world don’t seem to know about anymore.
The LAPD examine the contents of the box and find the bones of a dead replicant, in particular Rachael from the first film, a highly advanced one-of-a-kind model that was lost years ago along with former blade runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford). But the analysis finally reveals what was so unique about Rachael – she died giving birth.
Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright) is stunned by this news, since it has always been believed that replicants could never procreate. She tells K to keep this startling news a secret, since if anyone finds out it could start a war between humans and replicants. Joshi also assigns K to track down Rachael’s child and terminate it before it’s too late.
The main takeaway from “Blade Runner 2049” is that it is visually stunning and the best looking film of the last few years. This film is worth seeing for the visuals alone. From the opening scenes of a farm that consists of crop-circle like solar panels, to the increasingly large landscape of downtown Los Angeles that looks like buildings are staked on top of other buildings. Nearly every shot in the this movie is pleasing to the eye, especially with its neon color palette that makes anything yellow or orange stand out like a forest fire in the night.
“Blade Runner 2049” is like “2001: A Space Odyssey,” in that both films are always throwing unique yet interesting futuristic devices at the audience to show you how much the world has grown. From its holographic girlfriends that you can pay extra to take outside of the house, to the cameras that can make the blind see again, to technology that allows you to create and recreate memories.
But unlike “2001,” the world in this movie is far from utopia. If anything this world is a dystopia. While the people of Los Angeles live in comfort for the most part, surrounded by all the creature comforts they could ever want, nature and animals are nonexistent. We never see the sun at all in this movie and the most sustainable food source are maggots. Entire cities have been turned into giant garbage heaps, while others like Las Vegas look more like the surface of Mars.
If the original “Blade Runner” wanted to look like a gritty and darker version of Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis,” then “Blade Runner 2049” looks like if “Metropolis” went through a nuclear war.
Outside of the visuals and the world of “Blade Runner,” the film gives us a compelling mystery with enough twists to always keep the journey interesting while also having a great sense of humanity and emotions, even with its main character being a robot. The first film asked questions about robots having souls, but this movie basically asks what makes up a soul in the first place. Is a soul memories? Ideologies? Emotions? K certainly seems just as emotional as any other character and has a strong code of honor to not kill anyone with a soul; does that give him a soul?
Like the first film, this one has no shortage of philosophical questions about what makes us human and what it means to be alive. The difference with “Blade Runner 2049” is that it doesn’t make these questions tedious or uninteresting.
Overall, while “Blade Runner 2049” has some pacing problems from time to time, that is a minor nitpick to an otherwise great movie. Even if you’re never seen the original “Blade Runner,” the visuals are breath-taking and never lets up, while the world the film creates is imaginative while still being startling in its bleakness. The story is compelling and the acting gets the job done, with Ryan Gosling turning in a subtle performance. I highly recommend this film, if only to watch the most visually appealing science fiction movie of the last ten years.
Final Grade: A-