Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
Written by: Hampton Fancher & Michael Green
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright
If surrounded by a positive support system, you probably grew up being told you were special in some shape or form. A reality that will ultimately be shattered when experiencing more of the world and realizing others have lived similar lives and will reach analogous destinies. It’s what makes us all human, which creates the divide in this science-fiction masterpiece.
In the world where replicants get constructed for labor humans refuse to do, we have K (Ryan Gosling), a more obedient version sent to hunt down older versions, who may be developing their own emotions and ideas. Upon the discovery of a replicant giving birth to a child creates a miracle that can upset the balance established between humans and replicants thus far.
Taking place narratively and released three decades after Blade Runner, the world looks the same but different from where replicants stand. The new iterations have been made with obedience being their primary trait to complete tasks. There are the replicants working out in the fields, in the pleasure houses, and then K, whose sole purpose revolves around killing his own kind. A life of servitude they accept because they have been created and do not possess a soul much like humans do. An idea challenged when K discovers, when on a mission, that a replicant could bring life into the world. The idea of this being possible challenges the establishment built around the purpose of these replicants. Humans can look down upon them and use them because they’re seen as empty vessels, but if they can produce life, how are they any different than us?
Thus the search for this child begins, who’s now an adult. Several parties have their own interest in the discovery of this person, but it becomes a journey of self-discovery for K, as he wrestles with being a replicant and the artificial pleasures he receives from life. With this journey Blade Runner 2049 takes its time and immerses you into the moments of self-discovery, as it dazzles you with the exceptional production design and cinematography.
The conceptual idea of this world constructed in this film astonishes me with its amount of detail and yet how it leaves things to be completely mysterious. The original Blade Runner felt prophetic with how it predicted what the world may look like in 2019 except for the flying cars, of course. It predicted the cultural future with being inundated with advertising and glowing screens all around us. Fast-forward to 2049 and you have a world that has only gotten worse through time and the glee to enslave and utilize artificially created replicants shows how awful humanity can be. These replicants serve their purpose but get different memories implanted into their minds to make them feel some sort of emotion. The memory in their minds feels real, but it never actually happened to them. A concept so brutal and harsh, it makes you feel for these creations with the burden they must carry mentally.
Roger Deakins went off with his lighting and cinematography in this feature as he teamed up with the production designers to create a wide variety of locations that look unique in their own ways. The use of color in this film blew me away as K walks through desolate areas and the different environments surrounding them. Outside of the main city where he lives, everything else seems to consume him visually. I did not mind the slow pace this film carried because I never wanted to leave these different settings established. Each of them had such intricacies and valuable descriptions as to where K has found himself. K’s slow walks through each environment provided the opportunity to just sit back and marvel at the beauty on display.
The central story expands on the original and pushes against its limitations with how it raises the possibility of replicants being held on equal ground as people. The first film made it a big mystery whether the protagonist had been a replicant, but this installment decides to clear all of that up to have a larger discussion, which troubles K, as at certain times he believes himself to be the miracle child everyone has been looking for. It comes from the torture of the dreams he sees at night and the possibility of being something more. For his entire existence, he only believed to be a cog within a large machine, but with this new hope of being something special, if it does not come to fruition the pain can only be much worse. It gives credence to the idea of ignorance being bliss. This central idea propels the entire story as K investigates and collects clues to receive an answer to all of the questions permeating his mind. Much like the first film, Blade Runner 2049 can be looked upon as a detective story, but one that dives deep into the psyche of its characters.
Ryan Gosling puts on another one of his beautifully stoic performances as K, who must go through life as a replicant. These replicants are looked down on and are called skin jobs in a derogatory nature. Gosling remains emotionless, as it represents what a good and obedient replicant must be. It makes the moments where his mind begins to cave in on itself that he bursts into rage or irreconcilable sadness all the more potent. Gosling has shown his ability to make performances such as this compelling in First Man and Drive. They have a beauty to them and do more at times than these over the top performances begging for others to see how much acting is happening. Being guarded and emotionally suppressed feels like a bigger challenge and Gosling continues to prove his excellence as an actor within several genres. Much of the story follows K through and how he traverses the areas around him but the supporting cast adds levels of depth to the story.
The legendary Harrison Ford reprises his role as Rick Deckard and pieces together a man, who has lost so much in life. The situation where he’s found breaks my heart, as he led with his conscience and heart at the end of the first film and has subsequently paid the price for it. The person who stole the show, however, was Ana de Armas as Joi. She portrays this artificial intelligence software that serves as a girlfriend. As one of the other characters put it, “you don’t like real girls.” Joi creates a memory and learns to love whoever purchases the software. She appears as a hologram but a new upgrade purchased by K allows her to travel around with him through a portable device. The performance by Ana creates such a sympathetic program, which matches the beauty she brought to the role. This serves as the first role I’ve seen her in and from then I knew she would blow up to become a star, which she has subsequently done. As a computer program she brings more emotion than K, but the story demonstrates programs are meant to be a service no matter what emotional attachment happens to spark by the user.
Denis Villeneuve continues his streak of spectacular films with Blade Runner 2049. Fresh off crafting one of my favorite films ever in Arrival, the man goes ahead and creates a film that surpasses the science-fiction classic that came before it. For as cold as his films can be, the emotional moments of recognition and adjustment leave be speechless. He initially took the job of helming this sequel because he did not want anyone else messing it up and I’m glad he stepped in and delivered a masterpiece. It shows through the collaborative effort to create a visual splendor, but also unafraid to tell the story he wanted. Studios do not make movies like this anymore with its high budget, slow pace, and pensive ideas all wrapped up into one story. He made a nearly 3-hour film, where much of it focuses on the feelings of this replicant as he goes through this investigation and I did not want it to ever end. I would love to stay and explore every nook and cranny this world has to offer and where this story progresses. His love for science-fiction knows no bounds, as he delves into beautiful ideas of freedom and expression through this film. My favorite living director, who continues to craft such spellbinding experiences.
While I believe Blade Runner 2049 to be a bonafide masterpiece, it may not be for everyone with how it expounds on the ideas of creation and intellectual freedom. It takes its time to tell its story and does not care if you want it to move faster. I could sit and analyze every single location K enters to draw out its significance and its mixture of beauty and horror. The film shows the heights of what a sequel could accomplish in the science-fiction genre and I look forward to going back to the world just to sit there and take in what it spells out for the future of humanity. A majestic and utterly enthralling experience for the eyes, for your mind, and your heart.