I have a confession to make: I had kept the original “Blade Runner” on my “pile of shame” (i.e. classics I should have watched, but haven’t) for a long, long time. For years, I had known of its cult status and greatness, and yet I couldn’t get myself to sit down and watch it. “Watch it already, Chris, get yourself together” I’d be telling myself — louder and louder, as the long-awaited sequel was coming. Finally, I succumbed to the pressure and, right after that, I ran to watch the (then) freshly released “Blade Runner 2049”. And you know what? If you also have been wondering whether the original is worth watching, don’t wonder anymore. It is. But the sequel is even better, because a much better director has made it.
What makes us human?
The year is 2049. It’s been 30 years since the events depicted in the original. A new blade runner, K, discovers a mystery, which can bring chaos to the world… Trust me, that’s all the summary you need, because “Blade Runner 2049” has a story which works best when you discover it on your own. Hampton Fancher (the screenwriter of the original “Blade Runner”) and Michael Green (“Heroes”, “Logan”) made sure that the plot would be engaging, deep and fascinating.
In the centre of the story, there is an investigation conducted by the aforementioned K. Together with the character, we travel around the dystopian world of future, getting familiar with its dark secrets. We reach for clue after clue, learn of the mystery’s new details and, finally, we look at these puzzle pieces from an entirely new perspective, noticing a surprising and interesting picture. This plot thread takes a lot from the original “Blade Runner” and its neo-noir aesthetics, and makes you feel engaged so that you try to solve the puzzle yourself. The screenwriters build a solid and coherent story, which is also unpredictable and shocking. Every plot twist makes sense here. So, although “Blade Runner 2049” may not unravel the way you thought it would, the solution connects to the previous clues left by the authors.
Of course, there are more plot threads woven around the investigation. The protagonist meets intriguing supporting characters, there is an ambivalent antagonist lurking in the shadows, and, in the background, a series of events of world-changing potential take place. Ultimately, however, it is the microstory of the main character that is the most important for the screenwriters. His quest is the focus of the final scene, which makes the film more intimate than epic.
The original “Blade Runner” is much more than you can see on the surface and it is also true about this one. While Ridley Scott’s film tells about mortality, Denis Villeneuve’s is more an analysis of fertility and birth. But it doesn’t stop here, as the director and the screenwriters dig even deeper, searching for the answers about what makes us human, if technology can replace love, whether we can pursue survival sacrificing others, whether the civilisation is ending and if searching for purpose or wanting to be unique are the ultimate human features.
Throughout the story, there are many references to the original. They are distinct enough for you to have to know Scott’s film, but paradoxically also subtle. So, if you wanted the big mysteries from the “Blade Runner” universe to be solved, you’ll get some hints but nothing tangible enough. All the ambiguities are still there. This is a good solution: building a new story upon the previous one but in such a way that it doesn’t undermine or compromise it.
Are there any bad things? Some may not like the pacing. The story unravels rather slowly and steadily, but it helps you to get involved in the characters’ internal struggles. But what is more problematic is the treatment of women. In “Blade Runner 2049”, they are either sex objects or slaves and even if they gain a bit of independence, they get fridged in no time. Maybe it is because the screenwriters wanted to reflect the eighties’ style of storytelling or simply they were pessimistic about the women’s future. Either way, it’s a pity that, while the voice of the women grows louder and louder, this film seems to make it quieter.
Symmetry, colour and synthesisers
Enough about the story: let’s talk about its execution. Denis Villeneuve is a very talented director and the news about him helming the new “Blade Runner” chapter was welcome by the fans. With “Arrival”, Villeneuve had already shown he can make ambitious sci-fi films, has the ability to pose difficult questions and consciously choose an appropriate, eye-pleasing form. This is also true about “Blade Runner 2049”.
The film looks brilliant. Beautiful, symmetrical shots are marvellous to look at and make you feel the sort of eeriness of the futuristic setting. Colours are used in a very imaginative way, and they don’t just underline the characters’ emotions but also constitute a whole new narrative later. The frequent use of oranges seems to symbolise the end of civilisation, while blues, green and purples represent a lively but worrying image of a futuristic metropolis. Of course, some of it is taken from the original, which Villeneuve references on the visual level. But the difference is, he does it here more maturely and consciously than Ridley Scott did in his film.
The storytelling is also more mature. Villeneuve goes against the trends set by today’s action films. The long shots and the slow editing let you feel every scene in a unique manner and give you time to get drawn into the intriguing dystopian world. And when you feel like this world’s inhabitant, you then begin to grasp the story threads and reflect upon them. This way of filming is not for everyone, of course, but, to be honest, I cannot imagine a faster “Blade Runner 2049” — it simply would not work so well.
And it all is enriched by the music. Composers Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch didn’t have some small shoes to fill because legendary Vangelis created the soundtrack of the original film. They honor him in their tracks, even using the same synthesisers. But just as Villeneuve improves upon Scott’s masterpiece, they enrich the known music themes with their own interesting ideas.
How to be a replicant?
Villeneuve is also fantastic when it comes to actor direction. You can feel the emotions of the characters not only by listening to their voice, but also — or maybe even mostly — by looking at them. That’s one of the biggest advantages of the film: it is told by images as visual art should be. But let’s get specific about the actors.
The main role is played Ryan Gosling. He is a specific type of actor: not really expressive but with a lot of screen charisma. These two, mutually exclusive, you could say, features are a perfect combination for his K. For the most part, Gosling keeps his emotions close to his chest, but he also carries the whole story on his shoulders and surprisingly doesn’t crumble under it. Ultimately, he creates a very relatable character.
Harrison Ford returns to his Deckard character after many years (just as he had done with Han Solo and Indiana Jones, I’m waiting for him to come back to Dr. Richard Kimble!). He’s different than years before. The older Deckard is grumpier and more violent, but underneath the surface there is some of the original character’s charm. Ford succeeds in connecting the past with the present and creates a very complex, great role.
Jared Leto plays the enigmatic antagonist, Niander Wallace. The actor has got an interesting idea for the character, portraying him as a little detached and bizarre. He is certainly magnetic and his presence is felt very strongly in the scenes he appears in.
Although the women are rather marginalised in the story there are still some strong performances by the actresses. Robin Wright is very powerful as lieutenant Joshi. Ana de Armas moves the viewer as Joi, a digital companion with a whole range of emotions. And Sylvia Hoeks is simply hypnotising as a ruthless Wallace’s assistant Luv, who shows lots of hate and silenced anger and lets the remnants of humanity shine through in a few scenes where her character sheds tears. Last but not least there are: very charismatic Mackenzie Davis and delicate, sensitive Carla Juri as mysterious Marriette and Dr. Stelline respectively.
And finally a few words about two cameos. Dave Bautista plays a character called Sapper Morton in the beginning of the film. He was cast against his looks, you could say, and it paid, because he shows quite a range of acting abilities in his short scene with Gosling.
Edward James Olmos cameos too and comes back as Gaff. Though physically changed almost beyond recognition, Olmos successfully recreates the essence of the mysterious character.
You may be wondering why we’re writing about “Blade Runner 2049” over a year after it’s cinematic release. Well, we’ve made the mistake of not doing it before. A huge one, because Villeneuve’s film, despite its few flaws, is one of the greatest sci-fi stories ever made. If you haven’t watched it, do it now! And if you already have, share your thoughts with us here or on our Facebook or Twitter.