Few sequels ever live up to their predecessors. Even fewer are able to step out from beneath that shadow to carve out their own unique identity. Blade Runner 2049 is that rare beast, a sequel whose heart pounds with as much passion and emotion as the original, a visual and auditory feast with few wasted shots and only a handful of missteps. Denis Villeneuve manages to show respect for the original science fiction cult classic while simultaneously expanding and extending the near future universe we’ve all seen in our dreams since 1982 (or, in my case, since about 1997 when I watched it on a beat up VHS from the rental store down the street). Lets dive into what I loved about the new one.
Ryan Gosling play K, the titular Bladerunner of this instalment, a replicant tasked with bringing in those of his kind who no longer obey. Watching his character arc play out across the near three hour run time was one of the most moving cinematic moments I can recall experiencing this year, second probably only to my full body revulsion at the “baby scene” in Mother. Watching him evolve from an unfeeling and cold replicant focused only on completing his assigned tasks to an emotional being wracked with confusion and anger highlights one of the threads that runs through both Blade Runner films – what exactly defines our humanity? What makes us so unique. Is it emotions or a biological birth? Or the belief that that we posses a soul, whatever that existential thing may be? K’s character arc puts all of this into question, but I feel it’s even more crystallized in the story of Joi, K’s digital wiafu. One can’t help but feel bad for Joi, and by extension the thousands or probably millions of holograms that exist in this world. Blade Runner 2049 adds this third layer to what can be considered sentient beings, allowing the still hated skinjobs (a derogatory term for replicants) to to join the humans in looking down on a lower caste for once.
Not trying to imitate the Vangelis score that helped define the original is one of the best moves 2049 makes, again cementing this as its own standalone film and not just a cheap imitation of what people loved about the original. Instead we are treated to a score from Hans Zimmer that conveys both the darkness of the perpetually dusky Los Angeles streets and the otherworldy red-hued Los Vegas. The score at times wouldn’t sound out of place on a Health album, providing a very dark and aggressive soundscape for Bladerunnner 2049 while still calling back to elements from the original. Bladerunner 2049 isn’t completely bereft of fan service however, as there are some moments that come to mind, such as the Gaff scene that presents an if not alternative perhaps ravaged by time and failing human memory recount of his and Deckard’s relationship. While it’s great to know Gaff is still alive this scene really doesn’t communicate anything that couldn’t have been delivered elsewhere, without the heaping of fan service. The majority of the movie is focused on bringing us new experiences thankfully, so this is a very small issue.
The CGI in Bladerunner 2049 never feels invasive or used for convenience, as often seems to happens with modern movies working with budgets this size and worlds this large. Instead, we are treated to a reserved use of the tools at hand, bringing to life a gritty future earth filled with larger than life advertisements, flying cars and one very memorable and dream-like threesome. Denis Villeneuve’s sequel has done the impossible, standing shoulder to shoulder with its legendary predecessor and fusing art film aesthetics and ideas with blockbuster bombast. Don’t be put off by the run time either; I found it was only towards the end when everything starts to wrap up that i actually became aware of how much time had passed since I entered the theater. I can’t heap more praise on Bladerunner 2049 that I already have (i mean I can, but I won’t because I that more I talk to closer to spoilers I get and I wouldn’t want to spoil anything) so I suggest you go and check it out and see a movie that lives up to most of the hype.
– Scott Floronic (@scottfloronic)