*Photo Credit: © 2017 Warner Bros. Entertainment
Ridley Scott: “Who are you?”
Denis Villeneuve: “I’m you, but stronger.”
Among my most unpopular movie opinions is my dislike of Ridley Scott’s classic Blade Runner (1982). I always feel like I’m just begging for the ire of other movie lovers when I express my issues with the film, and I fear being seen as unintelligent. “Oh look, this guy doesn’t like this sci-fi movie because there aren’t exploding robots!”
Because of this, my expectations going into Blade Runner 2049 (2017) were low. I expected to once again sit through an alienating disappointment that would lead to even more frustration with my inability to grasp the “genius” of a great film. Thankfully, this fear was totally unfounded, and I wound up leaving the theatre in awe of the spectacle put before me.
Director Denis Villeneuve’s take on the Blade Runner world is just as much a reimagining as a sequel. Villeneuve never compromises the continuity between his film and its progenitor, yet he serves up a refreshingly unique vision of the dystopian world that defined Scott’s original film. The opening shots, an aerial sweep across endless tracts of gray solar panels and synthetic farms, juxtaposed with an equally gray sky, immerses the viewer into a world wherein man blurs the line with machine, and vice versa.
While the first Blade Runner film consisted of constant dreariness and darkness, cinematographer Roger Deakins uses breathtaking color to define the setting and mood of “2049.” Each shot is a beauty to behold; passive, subterranean blues contrast with oranges reminiscent of the coals of a dying fire. The permeating color speaks to the viewer as powerfully as the characters themselves, if not more so. Combined with incredibly immersive settings, viewers are transported to a starkly different yet fully formed world that leaves them praying against hope that it remains only a fiction.
While I quickly fell in love with Deakins’s visual masterpiece (for which he absolutely must win an Oscar, at long last), the aspect of Blade Runner 2049 that sets it leaps and bounds ahead of the original is the direction of Denis Villeneuve. As a story about the essence of what it means to be human, the central messages of Blade Runner should be shown through the characters themselves. Ridley Scott, for all his world-building, did little with Harrison Ford, using his as a hollow vessel with which he navigated his dystopian hellscape. Villeneuve, on the other hand, let his story flow out of the talented Ryan Gosling, as well as the diversely constructed characters around him.
As a “replicant,” Gosling’s character, K, has all of the attributes of a human; however, he was made, not born. Designed to obey and hunt down renegade replicants, K is the personification of the ethical dilemma put forth by the film: what separates one thinking, feeling being from another? Why is a replicant of any lesser value than a man when they are both conscious intelligences?
This quandary is not limited to replicants and humans; rather, Villeneuve ambitiously introduces a character who is a hologram, an artificial intelligence fitted with a consciousness but not a form. While it sounds far-fetched on paper, Villeneuve works the dynamics between these different beings to perfection, aided by spectacular performances from his lead and supporting actors Jared Leto, Ana de Armas, and Robin Wright.
Blade Runner 2049 is not without a few shortcomings. Harrison Ford, while far better than in the original, still has evident limits in his character, which could only be overcome through further plot reinterpretation on the part of Director Villeneuve and his writers. In fact, the introduction of Ford’s character ushers in a strange inconsistent pacing that breaks with the consistent buildup of the first two acts of the film. Spiking in intensity and mellowing out multiple times in the final act, the flow of an otherwise seamless film gets uncomfortably disrupted, but the climactic moments and resolution of the film send the viewer off with a firm reminder of what a great movie should be.
Both the original film and the sequel are films that one must think deeply about. The implications onscreen don’t culminate in a blockbuster battle or a typical “good triumphs over evil” resolution, but instead the films offer a deeper, philosophical opportunity for reflection. Therefore, when I proceed to think about Blade Runner, I got frustrated when it wouldn’t work for me. But through Blade Runner 2049, I now taste that sweet meditation that the first film has given to many before me. And, hopefully, you will find that same feeling, too.
Wagner’s Watchworthiness: 9/10