Please note that this review contains spoilers, and here’s Spoiler Cat who will try and spare you from them. But scroll on at your own risk!
I’ve been thinking about Blade Runner 2049 since I walked out of the glorious extra large IMAX theater in Cape Town less than a week ago. Since then I’ve decided to go and watch it again, so I’ll be doing so this weekend! Really looking forward to that.
I also have to start this off by saying that I was never a fan of the original Blade Runner (1982) film, as I found it to be masturbatory and just boring in general. This being said, I won’t take away from the amazing art design and ground-breaking concepts explored in that film that shaped science fiction, and many other genres of cinema for many decades to come. It is a staggering work of fiction, and it needs to be appreciated as such.
But I still dislike it.
Anyway, if you aren’t up to date with what the whole Blade Runner universe is about, it’s based (quite loosely) of a book by Philip K. Dick, called Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? But it’s so loosely based on this material that you don’t really need to know much about the book; and the story and universe of the film stands a world apart from that. If you’re keen on learning more about the history of the Blade Runner film franchise, including a summary of the first film, and the 3 short films recently commissioned by Blade Runner 2049 director, Denis Villeneuve that outline major events in the years leading up to 2049, then check out the post linked below:
What it Got Right
I have said it, any many others have said it too: Roger Deakins must win an Oscar for the work he has done in this film. Don’t believe me if you don’t want to, but there are many amazing, talented people in the industry out there who also agree.
Knowing director Denis Villeneuve, and based on what he has said in interviews, most of the effects in this film are practical, with minimal use of green screen as the production design built out massive sets.
While they should be commended for this, it is true genius of Roger Deakins to capture each quiet moment, along with the more kinetic ones, in such amazing detail and grandeur. Every single frame of this film is masterfully lit and frame, and I swear if The Academy has any sense of what excellence truly is, he will win the Oscar for his part in this film.
Everyone in this film delivers an excellent performance. There are so many that can be pointed to. For me, the standout performances were Sylvia Hoeks as Luv, Ana de Armas as Joi, and Robin Wright as Lieutenant Joshi.
This is not taking away from Ryan Gosling who disappears seamlessly into his character, or Harison Ford, who delivers the most moving performance I’ve ever seen him deliver, but the ladies just stole the spotlight in this one. I think Dave Bautsita would get way more credit as well, if he has been in the film for a longer period of time. More on that later.
If I had to bring it down to a single performance that tops the rest, I will have to say that Ana de Armas steals the show for me. She is brilliant from scene to scene, and I have no idea why she doesn’t have a leading role yet.
Great Misdirect & Reveal
Damn. Screenwriters Hampton Fancher and Michael Green, amd even Ridley Scott according to Villeneuve did a stunning job with this story. We get these beautiful sub-plots that build character and explore the broader themes and ideas of the film (i.e. what it means to be human), like the scenes with Joi and K at his apartment. We also get this procedural investigation by the lead character K, which has a seemingly insane reveal, which then turns out to be a misdirect for an even greater reveal.
So basically Deckard (who may or may not be a replicant) had sex with a replicant, Raechael played by Sean Young in the original Blade Runner (1982), who then went on to give birth to a child. This idea of a replicant created as a tool/ slave now being able to procreate independently of their human masters, means that the entire system of class and superiority breaks. Lieutenant Joshi, K’s superior officer knows this, and therefor wants to keep it under wraps as she understands the broader implications this will have on the entire world.
Meanwhile, Niander Wallace, played by Jared Leto, the key antagonist of the film, is looking for the child that was birthed in order to find out more about this being, and go on to recreate what Tyrell created all those years ago. This is so tied up within his character that while it may appear to make him one-dimensional, it’s such a big idea, that it provides enough energy to propel him through the narrative. I don’t have the time to explore it, but there are also huge indications that Wallace has a ridiculous god complex.
I digress. We, along with K are lead to believe that he is this child, son of Deckard and Raechael, but it turns out that he was a replicant created by the replcant resistance, implanted with the actual child’s memories, and placed in the system as a decoy. The actual child is Dr. Ana Stelline (Carla Juri) who is a memory creator for replicants who K consults much earlier in the film as he investigates the case.
The way this plays out is beautiful. We are taken along this emotional ride along with K, where we experience (with him) the feeling of your existence being a lie, not once, but twice. By the end, however he is able to gain a degree of agency and make the choice to re-unite Deckard with his daughter. He is finally able to creak out of the mould of his artificial order-driven live, and be a part in something bigger than himself, by his own choice.
It’s unfortunate that we also see his disillusionment regarding his digital girlfriend, Joi. He sees an advertisement fro her in the streets if the city and he knows that none of it is real. This appears to be a big turning point and his moment of acceptance of his own role in the bigger picture.
What it Got Wrong
Bautista is Wasted
He literally gets wasted as he’s retired by K in the first scene of the film. I was surprised by how easily Gosling (a much smaller man) defeats him, but we soon find out that K is also a replicant who retires other replicants. He’s therefore judged not only by Sapper Morton (Bautista’s character) but also by human beings he works with, including police officers, other tenant in his building, scientists and even his superior officer (although she is a bit milder than the others).
Back to Bautista though. he delivers such a beautifully quiet performance, not only in the main film, but in one of the short films I mentioned earlier, entitled 2048: Nowhere to Run, which takes place one year before the events of this film and shows Sapper getting involved in a deadly fight and fleeing the main city.
We later find out that he is much more important in the bigger picture, as he witnessed the birth of Rachael’s child, and helped to hide baby, forming part of the original resistance. He is also a unique character in that he is one of the last Nexus 8 models, the ones that K’s line is specifically hunting down.
Anyway, I feel like I would have loved to have seen more of him in this film. It would have been great to just give him more time, even if they ended up killing him off at a later stage. But based on his role in everything, becasue he probably knew so much, it would have ruined the slow reveal of information as he would be a walking, talking exposition dump.
A Severe Score
I was super disappointed that Jóhann Jóhannsson had dropped out of this project at some point, as I loved the work he did with Villeneuve on Sicario; one of my favourite films from that year. The score in that film really amplified the tension and felt almost like a character in the film itself, in a weird way.
Anyway, Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch stepped up to do the score, and these two are legends in their own right. The only issue I has was that sometimes the score just felt really, really harsh.
The warping and blasting sounds were just so overbearing at times that it felt like in some moments they were manufacturing tension in a scene, instead of creating it with what you can see on the screen itself. This just made me feel a bit cheated at times, and I wish it wasn’t the case. Granted, it didn’t happen that often, but it still annoyed me.
Where is Deckard?
I initially thought that I was being ripped out of the film because of pacing issues; but upon reflection, that was just me lying to myself. This film is almost perfect, and I enjoyed every character moment, every beautiful frame, and every bit of detail in the revelations as they played out on screen. But there was one thing that pulled me out of the experience at least twice, and that was the lack of Harrison Ford.
Here’s the thing, I’m not a huge fan of Ford. I believe he is a movie star not an actor, even though this is an amazing performance, which leaves me really conflicted. But all of that aside, his face was so prominent in the marketing material for this film that I truly expected him to show up within the first hour of the film. Yet he doesn’t show up until much later in the film. I lietrally found myself turning to my friend in the cinema and asking, “Where the fuck is Deckard?”.
Just imagine a world where his entire presence in the film was kept a secret. Imagine that moment when none of us saw him in a trailer or poster, and he stepped out of that darkness, pointing that blaster at K. It would have been a truly lose-your-shit moment in cinema history that audiences would have been talking about for the next four decades. But nah, for some reason they decided they needed his face to sell tickets, and Gosling and Wright weren’t good enough to do just that. maybe next time, huh?
Overall, Blade Runner 2049 is one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen. Ever. Above this, it is expertly made on every level, and deserves to be seen on the biggest screen possible. Despite the fact that its box office performance is nowhere near what this film deserves, I’m pretty sure it will get a lot of Oscars buzz (Deakins better win that damn Oscar, I mean he’s only been nominated 13 times!).
I’m hoping that the global ticket sales, as well as the DVD and Blu-ray sales make up for it so that 1) We can keep seeing more amazing films like this being made, and 2) Denis Villeneuve will get to make amazing movies for the rest of his days, never getting his budget cut because of a lack of box office sales.
Should you See it? Yes! Go to the biggest screen, with the best sound and watch this immediately!
What are your thoughts on Blade Runner 2049? Don’t forget to leave a comment and let us know what you thought. If you enjoyed this review, feel free to share this post too.
You can watch the first trailer for Blade Runner 2049 below:
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