Review: Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Blade Runner 2049 (dir. Denis Villeneuve, 2017) – A long-buried secret leads K to track down former blade runner Rick Deckard, who has been missing for thirty years.

Verdict

A plodding pace for thin plotting tempers enjoyment of what is otherwise a thematic marvel, with visuals made for the cinematic experience.

4/5

Review

Just two years from the future that Blade Runner predicted thirty years ago, and we are still steps away from emotive replicants, hover cars, and instant showers. What has however exceeded 20th century expectations, is digital imagery. Film has since seen brilliant advances in simulating realistic holography and futuristic landscapes. It is hence no surprise that Blade Runner 2049 would be a visual masterwork.

What about its narrative then? Years have left the ambitious sequel at a disadvantage, asking questions that have already been asked before. Its predecessor Blade Runner had been made in 1982, when novel ideas such as singularity were rife with unknowns. The source material Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick goes further back to 1968, at a time when A.I. had been but an abstract concept.

Blade Runner 2049
“This isn’t Orange County, Spinner.”

Science has made impressive leaps since then. Modern prototypes like Hiroshi Ishiguro’s Erica has imitated sentience to disconcerting effect, while real-world algorithms have been proven to pass the Turing Test. In fiction, film and literature have explored the subject to no end. No doubt, Blade Runner 2049 would draw instant comparisons to other outstanding sci-fi contemporaries, with its subject of Man v. Machine.

Isaac Asimov’s Runaround, or I, Robot comes to mind, its Three Laws of Robotics preventing the rising of androids. Spike Jonze’s Her explores the philosophy of engineered consciousness with an ostensible love story. Alex Garland’s Ex Machina finds inspiration in modern anxieties surrounding overreaching corporate giants, as well as the increasing reliance on technology.

All these motifs recur in Blade Runner 2049 in familiar forms. The film centres on K (Ryan Gosling), a self-aware replicant who hunts down obsolete models for the LAPD. He has never questioned the killing of his own kind, until his investigation uncovers the remains of a once-pregnant replicant Rachael (Sean Young), who has mothered a child with former blade runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford).

Blade Runner 2049
The perfect hiding place.

Her child lives, none of its experiences or memories fabricated by a corporation. It is born with what is deemed a soul, and is not simply a vessel made to serve. If a replicant can give birth to a child with freewill, surely have they transcended their artificiality through the act of true procreation.

Things complicate when K is led to believe he might be the child of Rachael and Deckard. It is clear at this point how Blade Runner 2049 follows close to the themes in Ridley Scott’s original. Like Rachael, K struggles with his identity as a replicant and harbours strong hopes that his memories may be real.

His desire to be human is reiterated in his relationship with Joi (Ana de Armas), an Andy made for sexual gratification with no agency of her own. When he re-programs her with a mobile emitter, he observes her out of curiosity about her sentience, more than pure sensual love. It is as though if he can believe her to be human, he himself can be too.

Blade Runner 2049
Existential crisis personified.

His constant hopes of humanity also harken back to Tyrell’s motto, “more human than human”. Machines are becoming more human, only because we have become less. Replicants continually seek ways to express their humanity. Yet Man has fixated on the purpose of serving corporations – Man submitting to consumerism, Deckard fulfilling his job as a Blade Runner – arguably surrendering their freewill.

The narrative succeeds in offering plenty of room for thought as such. Even if the ideas are not particularly new, the definitive perspective of a replicant makes for an interesting watch. Denis Villeneuve and Roger Deakins inspire further awe with their mesmeric vision befitting the cinema, their third partnership following Prisoners and Sicario bringing an experiential treat.

Unfortunately, the pace is draining. In K’s search for the missing child, there is no big mystery that warrants a run time of 160 minutes. Extensive scenes – like K browsing archival records, or engaging in fisticuffs with Deckard – add little to the narrative, save for aural-visual marvel. A sparse screenplay exacerbates the issue. Never do the lines ever come close to evincing what Rutger Hauer did as Roy Batty in Blade Runner.

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time… like tears in rain.”

– Roy Batty, Blade Runner

Back then, Batty’s conversations with Tyrell had been carefully designed, presenting the latter’s God complex. Tyrell subtly shows an admiration for his creation, fascinated by his own work that he does not fully understand. In the new villain incarnation, Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) does away with ambiguity. His espousal is uninspiring, lacking nuance in his one-track antagonism for the sake of his selfish gains.

Given the enduring impact of the original Blade Runner even after 35 years, its sequel can come off disappointing in its dearth of indelible moments. But pacing blips aside, Blade Runner 2049 still impresses with its rare contemplative storytelling. Its protracted introspection continues to raise the pertinent question of what makes us human, its philosophical quest deserving to be revelled in, especially on the big screen.

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17 thoughts on “Review: Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

  1. Yes, you have seen it as well 😀 I agree with most of the things you have written here. The length of the movie was just a tad bit too long. Cutting a few scenes would have helped the pacing of the movie. Other than that, I really enjoyed the film. The cinematography was absolutely amazing, making it a spectacle that was incredibly impressive. Especially on Imax. As always this was a well written review. Also found the research you did with the references to all the novels and other films really amazing. In short: terrific review 😀

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks much for giving this a read! And yes, visuals were definitely the allure of the film. Even the most tedious scenes are beautifully shot. I do regret not seeing it on IMAX; that must’ve been an amazing experience. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  2. “…aural-visual marvel…” – EXACTLY what this movie is. Great review Jade! I went in expecting to like this well enough, but instead ended up loving it. Looking forward to rewatching it and seeing how it holds up then.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Zoë! I’ve heard so much about the brilliant visuals, but the sound design deserves major props as well. I’m planning to watch the original and this back to back soon. Hope you’ll enjoy the rewatch! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Cool review, not seen the movie yet and genuinely think I need to rewatch the original as I was never a huge fan but I think younger me was a bit more uptight about things, and older me might appreciate it. Your post makes me think the sequel sounds like a marathon so maybe I will wait for a rental and get snacks in before I settle in to watch.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, John! As a kid, I admittedly thought Blade Runner was pretty dull, and only grew to appreciate it when I had to watch it again in class. Hopefully that’d ring true for you too! Enjoy the sequel too. Snacks would be a great idea. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Omg I didn’t realize you had written a review on this film! Seeing as how the pacing is so methodically drawn out, I understand it could prove exhausting for some. But honestly, 2049 was one of those movies I could’ve watched til the end of time. I was so excited hearing the runtime because I wanted to be immersed in this world as long as possible. Denis Villeneuve did NOT disappoint. And Roger Deakins most definitely comes through. 2049’s visuals are so engrained in my mind that I feel like I am torrentially haunted by it, and I mean that in the best way. Such a gorgeous piece of art. Shame not many people saw it though.

    Like

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