Hollywood is into sequels, there’s no doubt about it. It seems like all they’re making these days are shitty sequels or shitty remakes. Or, in the case of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, shitty remake sequels. (Yeah, I said it. So what? Come at me.)
So when I heard they were finally getting along to making a Blade Runner sequel, I was extremely skeptical, scared, even. I didn’t want this to turn into another ‘Let’s just make another death star, but this time we’ll make it 10x bigger’ situation. I wanted to see a new side of Deckard’s world. I wanted to see a modern version the eerie, dystopian future that Ridley Scott created for the first film.
I had decided that instead of being pessimistic about what 2049 would hold in store, I would anticipate it heavily and have such high expectations for the film that there’s no earthly way that it could possibly live up to them.
After sitting in the Alamo Drafthouse for three hours Saturday night, I can say that it blew my expectations out of the water. It wasn’t at all what I was expecting (honestly after three days of thinking what I would write for this review, I still don’t know what I was expecting), but it was a damn fine film nonetheless.
Blade Runner is an iconic film for many reasons. Its story, its script, its message, they all carry an air of philosophy to them that other films just can’t quite match. Especially today, when we’re actually dealing with artificial intelligence, not just writing about it. The main focus of Blade Runner asks one question that we all ask ourselves at one point or another: “What is it to be human?”
That question, along with many others, are front and center in the sequel, Blade Runner 2049. Although they’re not put quite as eloquently as they are in the first film, we’re still forced to think about things that make us rather uncomfortable.
Like Blade Runner, there are many types of replicants in 2049. There are the Nexus-8 models who were the last to be commissioned by the Tyrell Corporation. Then there are the newer model replicants made by the Wallace Corporation, Tyrell’s successor. These models, unlike the old, are programmed to obey every order, so the old ‘freewill’ problem they had before with the Nexus-6 and -8 models are long gone…that is, only if the newer Blade Runner’s take care of them.
So, instead of Rachel’s iconic line from the first film, “Have you ever retired a human by mistake?”, you have K (Ryan Gosling), an android, retiring his own kind. Sapper (Dave Bautista) points out the issue with this at the beginning of the film.
Once K returns to his apartment, we’re exposed to a new dynamic of artificial intelligence: his wife/assistant, Joi (Ana De Armas). Did anyone else find it weird that a robot, an artificial intelligence that isn’t actually human, had an artificial intelligence that also wasn’t human? He craves attention, companionship, and love just like humans do. That’s how far these android models have come. And in some ways, Joi craves those things, too. Is it because she’s programmed that way? Or has she actually fallen in love with K? It’s a mind boggling question that becomes even more interesting when you realize that we already have this, well, some of us do, in our own homes in the form of Google Assistant and Alexa.
It’s crazy to see the emotional attachment that K builds up to this thing…Ah…see, that’s the issue right there. I just called Joi a ‘thing.’
Think about it. Isn’t that what Blade Runner is about? Deckard falls in love with Rachel, an android. Isn’t that why it was weird? Isn’t that why they were hunted? Because he was harboring an android?
We accepted that in the original film. We sat back and said ‘Okay, she’s pretty god damn human,’ and accepted the fact that they were in love. So what’s the difference between the Deckard/Rachel dynamic and the K/Joi dynamic? Is there one? It sure feels like there is because she’s a hologram, but who’s to say that their feelings are any less real because of that?
Then we have the question that Wallace (Jared Leto) brings up when he’s speaking with Deckard. I’m not going to get into it here because I don’t want to have any spoilers, but if you’ve seen the film, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t seen it yet, just wait for the scene and you’ll see what I’m talking about. That one question, that one line sparks an debate over the entire series, I think.
And that’s why I loved 2049 – it made me ask questions. It made me think. It made me go back and think about the major questions of the first film and think about them in the context of what I had just watched. It wasn’t me thinking ‘That sure was a movie!’ It really blew me away how much thought and effort the writers put into the story of 2049. And they very subtly set it up for a third film. Nice, guys. Nice.
But the writing isn’t the only thing about 2049 that built upon the excellence of Blade Runner. One of my favorite things about the original film is the cinematography. The fuzz in the air, the darkness, and the use of colors all paint a picture of this dystopian world and drag you into it.
2049 builds on that legacy and then some. Denis Villeneuve takes the colors used by Ridley Scott and adds a new layer to them. The rusts, blacks, grays, and silvers are all offset by a wonderful splash of bright neons: reds, blues, greens, and yellows. I think my favorite scene of 2049 has to be when K is walking over the bridge and the Joi billboard bends down and begins talking to him. The bridge is black. K is blanketed in darkness. Then all of a sudden, his world is illuminated with pink and purple. As she lifts herself back up onto the side of the building, the color fades and K is covered in darkness once again. It’s just fucking breathtaking.
Just as there’s a fantastic use of darkness in the film, there’s a great use of white, as well. 2049 contains two scenes that are fully illuminated and are mostly white. In the context of the film, that’s a pretty big deal, but I’ll leave you to figure out the symbolism on that one.
Villenueve is a master of shadow and color. I’m really glad that he was able to capture the same feeling of despair that Ridley Scott did in Blade Runner, and I hope he brings it to the third installment of the series.
The acting, too, is something that absolutely blew me away. To get that good a performance to come out of The Notebook Guy really made me respect Ryan Gosling more. Ana De Armas was fantastic. Hell, they even let Harrison Ford act unlike The Force Awakens. How about that shit?
I’ll be honest with you. This is the third review I’ve written for this movie. I have three drafts sitting in my posts folder, and none of them, including this one (although I think it’s the best), does 2049 justice. I don’t think I can do it justice. You just have to go see it.
I keep reading things that say 2049 has been a flop at the box office. Headlines keep saying that it’s underperforming. Well, you know what, if I were a part of 2049, I wouldn’t really care. I would be proud to be part of such a fantastic movie.
It’s not mass market. It’s not a movie that everyone and their mom are going to want to go see. It’s a Blade Runner flick. It’s something that a small group of people are going to absolutely love, and something that another group of people are absolutely going to hate.
Did they have to make it three hours long? No. Did they have to spend $150,000,000 on it? Probably not. But fans of Blade Runner (like me) are sure glad they did.
Reed’s Review Corner
Blade Runner 2049
9.8 electric sheep out of 10
It poses questions to itself.
It answers those questions.
It proves itself wrong.
Mesmerizing use of color.
Thanks, Drafthouse, for showing me this.
Please don’t make me wait 25 years for the third installment.