Blade Runner 2049 Does Original Justice and Then Some
When it was announced that the classic sci-fi/cyberpunk adaption Blade Runner was getting a sequel, fans held their breath, fearing the studio would churn out a cash-grab. However, the cast and crew assembled made fans far more hopeful. Denis Villeneuve is hot off of Arrival, which won an Oscar and was nominated for eight. Roger Deakins is arguably the best living Cinematographer, and his last collaboration with Villeneuve, Sicario, was an acclaimed visual spectacle. Hans Zimmer has become the industry standard for big-budget films, and he and Benjamin Wallfisch are coming off an impressive collaboration on Chris Nolan’s Dunkirk.
The studio also managed to hire enough of the original cast back (namely, Harrison Ford) and landed superstar Ryan Gosling for the lead, surrounding him with veteran actors like Robin Wright, Jared Leto, and former WWE wrestler Dave Bautista. With such a stellar cast and crew it was obvious the film was going to be pretty good, but fans were hoping for more than pretty good, and high expectations surely put this film under even more pressure to nail it. Well, Blade Runner fans, breathe easy: this film lives up to the hype.
The story, which was written by Hampton Fancher, the same writer as the original Blade Runner (adapted from Phillip K. Dick’s Do Andorids Dream of Electric Sheep?), feels like a very fresh take on the world invented by Dick and portrayed by Ridley Scott, but also echoes the original film spiritually. One must commend Villeneuve for his efforts; he is a big fan of the original Blade Runner and did not want to make it until he read the superb script. Fancher deserves major credit for writing such an original story that takes place in this aged universe. He went as far as growing on some of the details of Dick’s world while keeping its original post-apocalyptic atmosphere intact, arguably even pushing it further.
The plot differs from the original in some ways. It focuses on an old mystery behind the replicant’s ability to produce life like human beings do. A young Blade Runner, “K” (Ryan Gosling) becomes personally involved with trying to track down the missing information. K is a replicant as well, but elements of his past are thrown into question. While focusing more on the mystery, the story is also just as much about K’s journey in learning what it means to be human.
The original Runner focused more on the question of what separates the replicants from humans (“it’s a shame she won’t live, but then again who does?”); 2049 on the other hand juggled that question with a hot mystery, one that has the potential to answer the question. The original’s plot was a bit simpler structurally, but both are very thought-provoking.
Ryan Gosling as “K” is a match made in heaven. A quiet, repressed cop who is forced to kill his own kind, Gosling thrives off moments of subtle emotion, and builds gradually to a believable emotional climax. His love life with the computer hologram “Joi” (Ana de Armas) perfectly underscored K’s search for a soul.
De Armas was also very impressive; she, Gosling, and Mackenzie Davis take part in a sex scene that was both gorgeously shot and symbolic of the replicants desire to live (it’s not perverted). Jared Leto is also eerily strong in his short amount of screen time portraying the god-like Niander Wallace.
Jóhann Jóhannsson, Denis Villnueve’s longtime composer, was originally to score this film, but Villnueve decided to go more “in the root of Vangelis” (the original’s composer) with Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch. The effort may have paid off; the score is a fair compromise of the original score and Zimmer’s style. Zimmer may have abused the theater basses a bit, but it did help the film maintain a powerful and demanding tone. Jóhannsson’s style is also a bit present; there was one song I legitimately believed might had been borrowed from Villnueve’s last film Arrival (it wasn’t, the song is called “Wallace”).
The two films are similar in that they are mysterious, dramatic Sci-Fi’s, but they are shot differently. 2049 has an array of settings with contrasting colors, a mars-like red for an abandoned and radiated Las Vegas, a dark blue for the dreary, rainy streets of Los Angeles, a bright white for anywhere with snow; no matter which elaborate setting used, the film manages to be a visual masterpiece. Cinematographer Roger Deakins will likely receive his fourteenth Oscar nomination for his efforts, and possibly even his first win.
I’ll give this film an uneven 4.5 out of 5 stars; nearly perfect. Are there a few questions still rumbling around in the Blade Runner universe? You betcha. But the main point has been made; being human is not about being born a certain way, or about what your body is made of. Being human is about feeling and living life to the fullest, cherishing it, creating new life. Life is about love, and love is uncontrollable. This film is a reminder that life is a miracle best not taken for granted. I highly recommend it to any serious movie fan; this is dramatic Sci-Fi at it’s best.