Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
Denis Villeneuve’s “Blade Runner 2049” is already gaining the reputation of being a film which breaks new grounds in terms of creating visual splendour on screen, and its plot is a mix of cerebral reflections, unexpected turns of events and low-key, but effective action. While faithful to the world of the original film of 1982, “Blade Runner 2049” is really a film which is one of a kind, and in almost every respect. Here, it has been thirty years since Deckard’s adventures in “Blade Runner” (1982), and now planet Earth is even more depleted of its natural resources. The use of replicants on Earth increased, and now K (Gosling), a replicant police officer, is on the hunt “to retire” the older versions of replicants. However, one of his routine calls “to retire” has yielded important clues which may endanger the calm societal state whereby replicants and humans coexist relatively orderly. His adventure then becomes the one which involves the search for truth, and, like the original film, the preoccupation here is the issue of identity and the correct identification of false and true memories.
So, here, a Nexus-9 replicant K is on the mission, and when he is not “retiring” other replicants, he spends his time with Joi, his hologram live-in girlfriend, which is the product of Wallace Corporation, the successor to Tyrell Corporation. When K uncovers the remains of another advanced replicant, Rachel, it transpires that she was pregnant with the child, and the hunt then resumes to find the child, because the fact that replicants can reproduce must remain a secret. However, the staff at Wallace Corporation is also very interested in the finding, and will also want to know the identity of the child, so K is faced with some adversary along the way.
The intelligence behind the screenplay cannot be doubted: the twisty plot makes the audience wonder and just scratch their heads at the sheer ingenuity. The achievement here is Villeneuve’s utter respect and faithfulness, in terms of details, to “Blade Runner” (1982), and it is a good thing that the screenwriter of “Blade Runner” (1982), Hampton Fancher, came on board to write the script for “Blade Runner 2049”. In some respect, “Blade Runner 2049” even pays a tribute to the original film. For example, as in the original film, K uses a magnification device in his investigatory work and fights whereby part of a body ends up breaking the wall; among other similarities, such as the presence of piano in both films. Surely, “Blade Runner 2049” contains much more nudity/erotica than the original film, but its scenes of violence are as effective. The instances of violence in the latest film often come unexpectedly, and the brutality of the actions sometimes remind of some Tarantino work, for example, when Wallace kills one of his newly-born replicants.
The plot, surprisingly, chooses to ignore some of the interesting aspects of the short films made before it. For example, it does not really explore the rebellious nature of the newest replicants, and how far they could really go to protect their masters’ interests. All this is only implied in the film, and the film, rather, chooses to focus on the hunt for a missing child, with the result being that the film is sometimes akin to some Harry Potter-inspired mission to find “the boy who lived”, a special kind of person who is only one on planet Earth, possessing special abilities. Villeneuve seems to have taken his obsession with his previous film “Arrival” (2016) and its ending to a whole new level here, concerning himself with children and birth, while the production also pays sporadic tributes to both “A.I. Artificial Intelligence” (2001) and “I, Robot” (2004), and borrows heavily from “Her” (2013) to construct the relationship between K and Joi.
Moreover, the plot is sometimes too confusing, and the screenplay is just all over the place in terms of ideas in some places. The film does leave too many questions unanswered for the comfort of an average viewer; and, more astonishing, its characters often do things which seem completely random and do not make sense considering the plot. Even if in the film’s defence, one can say that it is all thought-provoking and it just requires a second viewing, well, the point still is that a film should be as enjoyable on its first viewing as it is on the second. “Blade Runner 2049” can simply overwhelm with its “intelligence” force. Starting with the question of duplicate DNA records and the failure of Luv to kill K, and then with Wallace’s “irrational” pursuit of Deckard and his killing of his own replicant, there are just one mystery too many, and even when answered are given, they are too layered to be really convincing. Also, despite the “packed” plot, the film has an almost snail pace, with the result being that the film is way too long, even given its complicated plot. Surely, here lies the film’s appeal: it never rushes the events, and provides plenty of opportunity for contemplation, but it does feel as though some scenes needed to be cut or some sequences sped up.
Another thing to note here are the brilliant visuals and the awe-inspiring advanced special effects. The visuals of this film are really stunning, and the film should be viewed through the biggest possible screen, preferably through an IMAX 3D. But, then, when one has cinematographer Roger Deakins on his team, as well as the budget of around $185 million, the audience can really expect something grand. In fact, Deakins is no stranger to producing visual content for science-fiction films, having been previously involved with the production of “Nineteen Eighty-Four” (1984) and was consulted repeatedly for “Wall-E” (2008). Therefore, when you couple the breath-taking cinematography/setting with the music by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch, the result is truly something mind-blowing.
However, probably, the greatest achievement here is the faithfulness of the film’s visuals to the original film’s world. The film also sometimes amplifies the visual concepts of the original film, and makes original spins on familiar concepts, since it has been thirty years since the last film’s events. For example, the original film focused on darkness, muddiness and rain, emphasising the chaotic nature of the city which is often invaded by robots escaping Mars. Now, thirty years on, “Blade Runner 2049” emphasises the complete depletion of resources through desert-like visions, i.e., orange-tinted ruins of the outskirts of the city. The focus now is on the sterility of the environment, and, although such a vision appears nowhere in the original film, it does feel as though it forms part of the real Blade Runner universe, since the passage of time must be accounted for. Another ingenious use of the setting, which is faithful to the original film, is the insides of Wallace Corporation. The yellow-coloured interiors of the Corporation remind of the infamous conference room of Tyrell Corporation in the original film. Finally, the production did not forget to include the instances of the chaotic life in the city’s Chinatown, also present in the original film. Now, the hologram of a giant ballerina works to entice citizens to the area, while everything else, from shops to people, maintain their exotic feel, as also happens in “Blade Runner” (1982).
The only concern here, regarding the visuals, is that it does feel as though the film sometimes uses its plot solely to showcase the visual splendours of the film. The film just feels as though it is too satisfied with its visual glory. That happens, for example, when K fights with Deckard in an abandoned building and there is signing hologram of Elvis Presley, or when K stumbles upon a miniature hologram of Sinatra. The question becomes whether these settings were already chosen before writing the plot around then. It does feel that way. It is for that reason, perhaps, that there are many totally random intervening scenes in the film. For example, in one scene, as soon as the audience settles comfortably into K and Joi’s romantic encounter, their meeting is abruptly interrupted by showing skyscrapers, and there are number of such instances throughout the film.
Harrison Ford, in the role of Rick Deckard, and Edward James Olmos, as Gaff, are reprising their roles from the original “Blade Runner” film. All the other cast is “new”, including Ryan Gosling (“Drive” (2011), “La La Land” (2016)) as K, Robin Wright as Lieutenant Joshi, Ana de Armas as Joi, Sylvia Hoeks as Luv, and Jared Leto as Niander Wallace. Gosling is a great choice to play K, because, with his ability to show inner emotion, the audience can identify and sympathise with, what is essentially, a robot. Also, Ford, as Deckard, did not lose any of his charm or screen presence despite the age, and his scenes are the most interesting in the film.
What impresses in the film, however, is the presentation and the cast of the secondary characters. They elevate the quality of “Blade Runner 2049”. De Armas (Joi) is particularly great, as is Write (Joshi). Hoeks, as evil-minded replicant Luv, often steals the show from her co-stars. Luv is repressed and truly dangerous, and her actions really frighten. The real pity is that Jared Leto, who plays Niander Wallace so well, does not have much screen time in the film, because I would describe his character as the most fascinating of all. He is a blind creator of the newest versions of replicants, the successor of the all-powerful Tyrell Corporation, and it would have been nice to get to know him and his story better in the film.
Another problematic aspect of the film is that it excludes full female audience participation in the film. This may seem like a trivial thing, but it is not. Even if it was ok for Villeneuve to decide that he would go for a more mature audience with this film, there was surely no excuse for him in forgetting that females also love science-fiction and the original movie. “Blade Runner 2049” seems to have been made with only male viewers in mind, and many of its scenes are reserved for a male’s gaze, as though it is only the gaining of male attention which was the aim here. The scenes with Joi, and the giant projected hologram of Joi, are all understandably for the day-dreaming of men in the audience, but, Wallace’s newly-born (and therefore naked) replicants are also female, and the film just cannot stop to showcase female erotica whenever it gets the chance.
Moreover and most unfortunately, unlike “Blade Runner” (1982), females watching the movie cannot really identify with any of the characters in “Blade Runner 2049”, and may feel isolated from the experience. The evil menace in the film is coming from one of the female characters, Luv, a replicant, and it is hard for females in the audience to identity with K’s hologram girlfriend Joi, because she is so evidently unreal. Also, other relatively benign females in the film just have too little screen time to identify with them, such as Lieutenant Joshi, Mariette and the designer of memories – Dr. Ana Stelline.
In “Blade Runner 2049”, the plot does take its back seat to allow the awe-inspiring visuals to take a central place, but that does not necessarily diminish the film’s overall merit. The film may be too long, and its plot has its holes, but the sheer force of the imagination here, the unparalleled ingenuity of the film’s design and setting, the commitment of its cast and the film’s faithfulness to the original film (both in style and in content) all really deserve the highest of praises. 8/10