Blade Runner 2049

Blade Runner 2049

All sequels are replicants in a fashion. Sequels don’t have souls. They are designed to do the heavy lifting, to secure all the capital. They are all designed to be bigger and better than their predecessor, but in their very nature they are designed to proceed, and as is so often the case, they ultimately lack the pure thing that made the original sing. In order to be bigger and better, they are given more resources to be just that, but money can’t buy you a soul, it must come from the divine! In most cases sequels are destined to be written off as an inferior product because in the end we’re not looking for a mere copy because, as is the mantra of Blade Runner 2049, we’re all looking for something real.

As it is for so many people, Blade Runner is a very special movie for me.

It’s not something I got first time, beguiled as I was by it’s spectacle of a futurisitic noir world in which earth had been left behind by humanity forging a more lucrative future in the stars. As a movie it is quite inaccessible, it wasn’t Robocop or Aliens, there’s a reason it bombed when it was first released in 1982.  Only after successive viewings of it’s various different cuts, I begun to appreciate it’s more enigmatic tendencies, not just with the famous ‘Deckard a replicant’ debate but an appreciation of all the things the film does that others do not, how it both looks to the past and the future to tell it’s story of the blade we all run between the human and inhuman.

You have Harrison Ford, the definitive charismatic rogue in other movies, but as Rick Deckard in Bladerunner he’s a hard drinking noirish PI rogue. Deckard is a difficult character to like despite being the central protagonist of the movie. The replicants may think they’re human and have rights to exist as anyone of us does, but it doesn’t stop Deckard putting them down with extreme prejudice, gunning them down in the back in a public setting. He forms a kind of ‘romance’ with Sean Young’s replicant Rachel, but he basically forces himself on her, immediately dehumanising her into this subservient role perhaps dictated by his own prejudice of man over replicant, which also translates as man over woman. No amount of saxophone and synths in the film’s iconic romantic theme can disguise the fact that this is an awkward relationship forged in Deckard’s darker lustier instincts. Just as the film forces us to think about what makes someone human, we must do the same for Deckard and once again, it’s difficult.

It was the film’s ‘villain’ of Rutger Hauer’s Roy Batty that was actually the hero of the movie. In the final conflict, with Deckard hanging off a roof, the big bad suddenly has a change of heart and chooses to save the life of his mortal enemy before dying of natural causes due to his diminutive life expectancy. Some may call it anticlimatic, but it leads to the ‘tears in the rain’ speech, a dialogue that is looked back upon with the reverence of some of Shakespeare’s greatest monologues.

The look of the film is still enchanting to behold. Ridley Scott’s movies usually look amazing, such is his talent as a world builder and visual designer. Sometimes his movies look so good but at the expense of story and plot (see Prometheus and Alien Covenant). Like the Nostromo, with Blade Runner Scott created this world that felt so industrial and fundamentally oppressive to the human spirit, yet beautiful at the same time. His characters inhabiting the film’s world with a natural and almost ‘tired’ ambivalence to the way things are. Small beings in amidst a vast and indifferent impossible machine.

Blade Runner never needed a sequel. After an infamously difficult production, the film bombed on release, without the theatrical cut even gaining the approval of Ridley Scott. The film was marketed as a sci-fi action/adventure starring Harrison Ford, another Star Wars when in actuality it was a slower burn detective story within this melancholic depiction of future LA. It would only be through Ridley Scott’s 1991 director’s cut and the definitive 2007 final cut that Blade Runner would claw back a devoted cult following. It is only through that devoted fanbase that a sequel actually got greenlit in the first place. With the likes of so many intellectual properties of the time getting the modern reboot/sequel, Blade Runner had become so influential it was perhaps inevitable that it would get revisited.

Time and ageing are nearly always big themes with the current trend of sequels both released and set 20/30 years after the original artefact.  Blade Runner 2049 is no different. It is set 30 years after the events of the original movie, in which Deckard eventually found his humanity, grasping it with two broken fingers before slipping away into the night with his replicant love with Edward James Olmos hot on his tails.

In 2049, it is now K (Ryan Gosling) as the blade runner tasked with ‘retiring’ rogue replicants for the LAPD. The movie begins with a routine mission which then reveals a larger mystery that has potentially world shattering ramifications that requires further investigation by our blade runner. K himself is under various forms of surveillance throughout the story, each with a different agenda, first of all from his superior officer Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright) making sure everything is by the book. Secondly by a replicant named Luv working for the shady Wallace corporation under the ‘many eyes’ of company CEO Niander Wallace (Jared Leto). Finally you have Joi, K’s own virtual AI companion waiting for him back home as the perfect holographic girlfriend who has her user’s best interests at heart. K’s investigation takes him across the length of 2049 LA as well as a little further afield with a fateful meeting with the original Blade Runner himself Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford).

It would have been better if they’d kept the Harrison Ford reveal a secret, coming close to 2 hours into the movie, but alas we’ve got tickets to sell.

Adventures in a sexy sexless world.

2049 is directed by Denis Villeneuve, who has an incredible run of films with Prisoners, Sicario and Arrival, which was easily one of the best films of last year. Just by association, Villeneuve’s name was enough to ease the nerves of many die hard fans at the prospect of a second Blade Runner. Having now seen the film, I can affirm that we had nothing to worry about. In nearly every capacity, Villeneuve demonstrates a clear understanding of the various components and complexities that made the original so beloved and builds upon them. It doesn’t spoil any of the elements that made the original so enigmatic, there is no definitive declaration of what Deckard is or isn’t. You can still watch the original as you’ve always done, but 2049 builds on many of the ideas of the movie, telling arguably a more coherent story within the same world with all it’s grand mesmerising visuals and monolithic splendour.

There is definitely an argument to be made that 2049 exceeds the original. One feels it doesn’t need any further iteration to become a classic.

Despite what people thought of the original Blade Runner, it was it’s art design that was the most influential component. 2049 builds on the legacy with some truly breathtaking views of this future world. Monolithic temple like structures standing gargantuan in the mist. Fly-bys over inscrutable cityscapes lined with neon lit arteries serving to highlight the presence of life among the ruins. The plot ventures into broad daylight to the outskirts of LA, to these vast scrapyard wastelands. Later it’s the orange sepia tones of an irradiated future Las Vegas.  Giant gaudy statues of the naked female form lying aghast and broken in the dust. Obviously with Roger Deakins presiding over the the visuals, it’s virtually impossible to not fall under the spell of it all. There is a poetry to a visuals that other films just don’t have.

This is what cinema was invented for.

What filter you using Roger?

At the centre of the movie, Ryan Gosling once again proves to be a perfectly decent leading man, a good fit for the blade runner’s long coat. It is easier to vouch for K as a character when compared to Deckard in the original, his arc feels more satisfying but is able to devastate emotionally. Although there is a lot of Gosling’s trademark silence and blue eyed ‘real human being’ shtick that he has trademarked in the roles that made him famous, this all fits and is amplified within the coldly indifferent world of the fiction.

One of the standout performances in the movie is from Ana De Armis as his AI companion. It’s a mixture of Spike Jonze’s Her and the romantic relationship at the centre of the original Blade Runner.  She’s holographic and mostly virtual, designed of course to fit K and his every need but ultimately provide him with all the emotional support when things get out of the hand. As far as the central relationships go, it forms the core of 2049. Later on there is a bizarre three way sex scene which is kind of beautiful in it’s own way.

Even in the smaller roles, Robin Wright delivers a little nuance to her ‘police chief’ character and in the introductory sequence Dave Bautista once again proves that he is much more than a wrestler turned actor. Jared Leto only gets a couple of scenes as Niander Wallace, a kind of Jesus lookalike with a misdirected God complex, talking in prophetic discourse, though his optic augmentations give him the appearance of a blind man who has lost his fundamental connection to the world. The corporate forces of evil, a softly spoken ‘by any means necessary’ lackey who replicates the innocent look of Rachel from the first movie but possesses all the threat of Roy Batty. It’s the most robotic performance, the most uncanny, crying tears when she is required to take a life as she has been programmed.

And then you have Harrison Ford. He managed to turn on the old Han Solo charm for The Force Awakens to the delight of many Star Wars fans. Reprising Deckard 30 years again, it is a reminder of just what a great leading man he was back in the day. There is more for Deckard to do here, a greater emotional gauntlet for him to navigate, a blade to run you might say. One feels Harrison Ford is yet to make his ‘The Shootist’ swan song.

Harrison Ford Deckard

Whether 2049 is for everybody is open to a larger debate. I loved it as I loved the original’s final cut. As I write, I’m practically foaming at the mouth, because of how much I want to see it again and pick out all the things I missed the first time through when I was admiring that specific L-shaped corridor.

At the same time, without pandering and boasting about my true cinephile nature, I know, there are many who just won’t have the patience for Bladerunner 2049. Which I fear may hurt the film’s endurance. At just under 3 hours, 2049 is a long movie, and it’s a film that is made with older retrograde sensibilities. Cuts are longer, scenes are extended to breathe. Silences are pregnant and full of meaning. Sometimes the visuals speak more to what is actually going on than the dialogue. It’s easy to get lost in appreciation of the design. The entire world is still of that 1980s sci-fi era, lots of analogue machinery. It all feels vaguely like a dream that is out of time, when modern films are often so much more direct with their punches.

Not that I would be so big as to recommend changing anything about Blade Runner 2049. The big old Sony logo comes up at the start of this movie. That studio that has been behind so many bad movies of recent years, desperately attempting to reboot franchises without understanding the appeal of whatever IP is subject for a re-do (remember Ghost in the Shell). With Blade Runner 2049 they had the decency to give the film makers the space to do what is necessary, an extension and tribute of the inscrutable themes and world at the heart of the various versions of Ridley Scott’s original.

It all comes back to the film’s enduring message. We’re all looking for something real. Films aren’t real of course, it’s all trickery and magic, which is perhaps why some are less into films than others. It all depends on your outlook of course. For some of us, we apply the suspension of disbelief within darkened auditoriums and for the 2-3 hours of their running life, films are real.

Blade Runner 2049 is one of those real things.

Blade Runner 2049 is no mere replicant. It’s inconceivably well made in all dimensions.Though it may ditch some of the noirish grit and darkness of the original, Denis Villeneuve’s take still remains murky, brooding over android/human existential questions within the same dream/nightmare vision of the future where humanity has effectively left the world behind to crumble and rust. The spectacle of it all is grand, the music is intoxicating, the performances no matter how big or small are all extremely well done. I was just hypnotised from start to finish. It’s easily one of the best films of the year, easily one of the best sequels ever made and absolutely demands to be seen on the big screen. 

Recommended Viewing

Edge of Blade Runner [2000]

Mark Kermode’s 2000 documentary on the making of Blade Runner.

Brazil [1985]

Another one of my favourite movies of all time, Brazil shares a lot of similarities with Blade Runner. Set within a dystopian cityscape albeit seen through Terry Gilliam’s madcap Pythonesque lens where bureaucratic red tape is the death of everything that is good and free. Cursed with a hellish production and a disappointing release, Brazil gained revival as a cult masterpiece in the years after. What’s scarier? The film’s suckerpunch ending or the death of a certain plumber. COMMENT BELOW! Actually don’t…. I don’t really care…

eXistenZ [1999]

I was going to say Gattaca but I don’t know… let’s all revisit this movie instead!

 

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