Quick Critique: Blade Runner 2049

Set 29 years after the events of the original movie, replicants have been integrated into society and have been sold en masse as well as other quasi-sentient devices. A blade runner named K (Ryan Gosling) happens to be a replicant tasked with hunting his own kind.  After finding the skeleton of a woman who had recently been pregnant, they realise that not only was she a replicant herself but her child had survived. K is tasked with hunting down and killing the child, who is connected to Deckard (Harrison Ford), missing since he went on the run at the end of the first movie.

Blade Runner 2049 is one of those rare sequels that manages to meet expectations and also exceed them in every way possible. It not only sticks to the thematic substance and weight of its predecessor, but also manages to expand the world and tell a story entirely its own within this framework. Movies like this are usually put on esteemed pedestals they are so rare, like The Empire Strikes Back, Terminator 2: Judgement Day or The Godfather Part II. This praise is absolutely deserved, and a lot of it is due to the work of Denis Villeneuve and Roger Deakins, two of the most talented people working in the industry.

Even people who didn’t like this film as much cannot deny that the cinematography is absolutely stunning. No lie; every shot  could be its own poster, that’s how good it looks! This truly helps to create a world both vivid and exciting, but also really mundane and lived in. This is mostly due to how characters react to their backdrops, and it never loses that steampunk edge despite its incredibly immersive visuals. A lot of them complement the story in pretty surprising ways, especially when it comes to K.

So yeah,-the updates to the world feel really relevant. While the original had to deal with the loss of identity through mass corporate investment, the removal of privacy and inequalities created by technological advancements, these problems are amplified and combined with our utter practical and emotional connection to technology, the widening rich and poor divide and the growing sense of existential dread amongst people. K is a replicant who ‘retires’ other replicants for a living, and our focus is on where exactly does he fit into the world. This is excellently complemented by a computerised girlfriend who greets him at his home, Joi. Their relationship is both sweet, encouraging and twisted by its own nature-the quest for identity is directly tied with the question of who Joi is and how much she really feels for K.

Let’s look at the acting. Some people call Ryan Gosling stiff, and while I don’t necessarily agree with that, he has a sense of understated stoicism that works perfectly for this part. His strange emotional reactions reflect perfectly in K’s struggles. This is easily Harrison Ford’s best performance in about a decade, making Deckard feel like he’s really changed while not losing in essence that he is the same person. Robin Wright has a great turn as K’s superior Lt. Joshi, giving a supporting role a lot of weight. The standouts, however, are Ana de Armas as Joi and Sylvia Hoeks as Luv, the enforcer of the Wallace Corporation, who manufacture replicants and holograms like Joi. They carry a lot of the unspoken burden of the movie’s struggle between identity and technology, and manage to be emotionally cathartic in one and terrifying in the other. Also Jared Leto is here.

There isn’t a lot I really hate here, to be honest. Sure it drags a little near the end, but the climax is great and I barely felt the pace for most of the movie. There are some ideas and characters who don’t get a lot of screentime when they probably should have, but it helps diversify the world and give a sense there’s more going on than we realised. Overall, Blade Runner 2049 was a success, just not in the box office. It’s got the cerebral mastery of the original, while updating the story in a natural way (helped by returning screenwriter Hampton Fancher). Denis Villeneuve managed to craft a movie as visually astonishing and perplexingly subtle in its themes and resonance, taking a beloved classic and making something new of it. It even has a fantastic arc for its main character, making the audience feel sympathy for a robot.

Blade Runner 2049 is beautiful.  Blade Runner 2049 is intense, clever, haunting, silly, well-constructed, thoughtful, striking, contemplative and, well, epic. Blade Runner 2049 is a success. It’s the follow up we’ve been waiting for for 35 years, even if we didn’t realise we were.

10/10

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